JordanCon 2011 – A Pictorial Blow-by-blow

Well, JordanCon was certainly a fun time.  I definitely recommend attending a con to other budding speculative fiction writers – if for no other reason than the fact that you will enjoy yourself!

The jungle in the hotel lobby where JordanCon III was held

The jungle in the hotel lobby where JordanCon III was held

Before I go into detail about what I learned about writing during this convention, I wanted to do a short recap of what I did – complete with pictures!  (Alas, I am in none of the pictures, as I always faced my camera away from myself, not thinking that it would be good to be in them.)

The hotel where JordanCon was held this year was pretty swanky.  As evidence of my assertion I offer a picture of the hotel lobby.  I’ve been in a few very nice hotels before.  None of them have had a jungle in their lobbies.  This is my new measure of what it means to be a swanky hotel.  Obviously, it impressed me enough to warrant taking a picture, and I offer this in lieu of a “view from the hotel room”.

Signing with Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal at JordanCon 2011

Signing with Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal at JordanCon 2011

My first stop on Friday was a signing with author Brandon Sanderson and editor Harriet McDougal.  Brandon Sanderson, as most by now know, is the author chosen to finish highly popular “The Wheel of Time” series that was begun by Robert Jordan but left unfinished by his untimely passing.  Harriet was his editor at Tor Books, and his wife.  Brandon has done a fantastic job with the final volumes in Jordan’s books.  And of course, in part thanks to this assignment and in part thanks to his own talents and skills, Brandon has become one of the Big Names in the field of fantasy fiction – especially Epic Fantasy, of course.

For myself, I took only one book to the signing – a hardcover copy of Brandon’s newest venture, The Way of Kings, the first in his own new series.  It’s a gorgeous book, and I expect many delights in reading it (though it must regrettably come after some other books that are already in my reading queue).  I started my “learning things” right away when asked by one of the attendants whether I wanted my copy personalized.  I choked.  Personalized?  What message would I, should I, ask the author to print in my book?  I jotted down some preposterous line.  I am eternally ashamed of that.  In the future, my personalization requests will be simple: “To Stephen”.  Anything else would be ostentatious.  (More importantly, asking for anything else would be embarrassing.)  This is in direct contrast to the novel Dear Wife got personalized for me (also by Sanderson) – in that case the personalization makes sense, because I know the message is from my wife.  But a message essentially from myself to myself only with another person’s signature makes little sense at all.

From there, I snuck into the “Writing for a Younger Audience” panel – a little late but still eager to get my learning on – with authors Eugie Foster and Jana Oliver – both Atlanta area authors publishing the speculative fiction genres.  I was sorry to miss part of this panel.  I stayed through the remainder of the day’s writing track panels, and Eugie and Jana stayed and added author David B. Coe for a panel on the state of “The Industry”. 

After “The Industry” I made sure to go up and introduce myself to David Coe.  David is one of the bloggers contributing to “Magical Words“, a blog on writing fantasy that I often read and sometimes comment on.  It was very gratifying when he recognized my name and associated it with a few of the comments I’d made there (as well as with a positive opinion of those comments). 

And that was the end of Friday.

Brandon Sanderson lectures on "Sanderson's Second Law" during the "Fantasy Writing" panel at JordanCon

Brandon Sanderson lectures on "Sandersons Second Law" during the "Fantasy Writing" panel at JordanCon

Saturday started early with the Peer Review session – to which I did bring  a copy of “PFTETD”.  Attending the Peer Review turned out to be a boon in disguise – because those of us who were there early enough were able to get prime seating for one of the top events of the day, the “Fantasy Writing” crash course with Brandon Sanderson.  This wasn’t really a panel discussion – it was Brandon talking about whatever he wanted to discuss.  Each year for the past three years his talks have been posted to YouTube – so I expect this year to be the same.  I’m likely to appear at least peripherally in some of those videos for 2011.  Then it was time for lunch – I went to lunch with a Canadian Wheel of Time fan named Leslie (who sat down next to me for Brandon’s talk and said “Hi, you’re my friend now”; it was the allure of the front-row seating, of course) and a married couple the husband of which I also met during Brandon’s talk (and whose names my name-forgetting brain have already forgotten because I suck and forget names).

I barely made it back in time for a signing by David Coe with a hardcover of his first novel, The Children of Amarid.  I stuck to my newly-minted rule for signing personalizations (i.e. just “To Stephen” and no requests for fancy messages) – and got a genuinely personal signing just the same (after Coe jested that the book would be worth more on Ebay if it wasn’t personalized – to which I replied it would be worth more to my kids and grandkids if it was).  I’m getting pretty proud of my small but growing collection of signed novels.  I also decided that I’d like to add How to Write Magical Words to my list of “books about writing” that I’d like to own – this one is by the group of authors who contribute to the Magical Words blog.  The blog has been very informative, and I expect the book will be valuable as well.

The Darkfriend Ice Cream Social

The Darkfriend Ice Cream Social - in the foreground the married couple with whom I ate lunch during Saturdays break

Then I slipped in to catch the tale-end of “Keeping a Long Series Fresh” with Jana Oliver – a topic of potential interest if I ever amass enough skill in writing to make another attempt at “Project SOA” (almost all my other novel-length ideas are, presently, stand-alone ideas, rather than trilogies or series).  Next was “Business Realities for the Aspiring Writer” with David Coe – where our collective bubbles about making it big were burst.  The last panel was followed by dinner, and then the “Darkfriend Ice Cream Social” – an ice cream and costume party. The costumes at the party were amazing – many of the characters instantly recognizable from the Wheel of Time series, even many of the minor ones.   There were devious villains, legendary heroes, memorable side-characters, and generic inhabitants of the world of “The Wheel of Time” – and there was even someone dressed as the original series author Robert Jordan himself (in the person of con Toastmaster Richard Fife, I am told).

As much fun as it was, large parties aren’t really my scene, so I called it a Saturday and retired early.

Writers gather around Eugie Foster after the "Crafting the Perfect Villain" panel at JordanCon

Writers gather around Eugie Foster after the "Crafting the Perfect Villain" panel at JordanCon

Sunday began early again – this time with “Crafting the Perfect Villain” with David Coe and Eugie Foster.  This very useful panel was followed by a panel on “Rewriting History” with David Coe and Jana Oliver.  This was probably the panel I was least interested in attending, overall – because I don’t often write alternate history stories.  But then I realized that my story “PFTETD” is a “present-day real world plus fantastical element” story, which can in theory involve an alternate history (assuming that fantastical element has been present throughout history, which in the case of “PFTETD” it was), and I remembered one of the early and most frequent criticisms of “PFTETD” involved the desire of my first readers to see more of the world – which would have meant a more detailed alternate history.

Harriet McDougal, Brandon Sanderson and David B. Coe, the panelists during the 30-second novel pitch critique "JordanCon's Got Talent"

Harriet McDougal, Brandon Sanderson and David B. Coe, the panelists during the 30-second novel pitch critique "JordanCons Got Talent"

JordanCon concluded with another marquee event – at least, it was a marquee event for those of us in the writerly class – “JordanCon’s Got Talent”: an “American Idol”-esque opportunity to offer up our 30-second novel pitches to the critique of real writers and editors.  The panelists: Harriet McDougal, Brandon Sanderson, and David B. Coe.  (David B. Coe was “Simon”, which he demonstrated with a sneering critique of Sanderson’s introduction of the panel.  “You call that an introduction?  I’ve seen better introductions by ring-tailed lemurs introducing diseases to the general population.”  Coe’s real critiques of the participants were much tamer, of course.)  Brandon and David, of course, are authors.  Harriet, meanwhile, was once the primary editor at Tor Books – as well as being the editor for the Wheel of Time series.  But, we were assured, Harriet was no longer an acquiring editor, so our crappy and unrehearsed (or perhaps overly-rehearsed) pitches during this panel would in no way impact our chances at a future in publishing.

The purpose of this last panel – added to the con schedule at Brandon’s suggestion – was to give us as-yet unpublished writers an opportunity Brandon didn’t have: to practice our novel pitches and have a safe-zone to get a critique from professionals in the industry.  This way, we can flub it and stumble over ourselves safely – and learn what works and what doesn’t – instead of screwing up in front of a real acquiring editor or agent if we ever get that chance.  Of course, I presented my novel pitch – this one for the project I’ll be starting on this summer, “The Book of M”. 

Next time I’ll share more about what I actually learned at JordanCon, sitting at the feet of masters… 

For more pictures (mostly of cosplays, including a nice pic of a dead-ringer Rand Al’Thor lookalike [that’ll mean something to the Wheel of Time fans]), hit the flickr set.


For pics from another perspective, hit the aforementioned Leslie’s flickr set.

For a run-down from someone with a cooler platform than mine (i.e Leigh Butler on part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

If you’re interested, here’s the start of a more detailed account of what I learned from each panel: “At the Feet of Masters ” (Part 2 and Part 3 as well)


39 thoughts on “JordanCon 2011 – A Pictorial Blow-by-blow

  1. Wow, what a trip! I’ve been keeping a half-an-eye on conferences recently, but they’re just soooo expensive! Especially the big-name ones I’d like to go to (I know, I know, now I’m preaching to myself…perhaps I should look for something smaller…lol).

    • Yeah… JordanCon wasn’t terribly expensive – the con itself wasn’t, anyway. The big expense with cons, really, is the travel and hotel. That’s why a smaller, local one is more ideal until you’re able to afford the investment for a bigger one. If you can cut down on lodging and travel by relying on people you know for a place to stay and traveling somewhere nearby where you don’t need a plane ticket or a roadtrip to get there, that can cut down on the expense a lot. Practice schmoozing and building contacts at the smaller level (I say this as a consumate awful-schmoozer; i.e. I’m a terrible networker) before taking it to the big leagues. That’s what made JordanCon actually feasible – small, local, and not terribly expensive.

  2. Great recap! I am glad you had a good time. Next Year’s convention won’t have a jungle but will have more to do and be closer together. I was running the game room so I doubt we met unless you can into the room.

  3. STEPHEN! Love your recap! And I’m honoured to have made the cut! ::blushes:: I had a fabulous time at JordanCon and learned so, so much–which, of course, was the entire purpose, right? 🙂

    The names of the couple we had lunch with were Doug and Sheryl–so nice! And you three were a great example of the caliber of people I encountered at JordanCon (my first con ever, btw). I was absolutely delighted by our lunch discussion–I had known I would be meeting up with certain online friends at JCon, but I didn’t expect to find myself sitting down for lunch and chatting away with complete strangers and enjoying myself so thoroughly! Thank you very much!

    Re: The pitch session… we can flub it and stumble over ourselves safely… you mean shake in our boots, right? My jeans were vibrating, my legs were shaking so badly! Hahaha!

    And yes, you’re my friend now. Because I said so! ;P

    • Thanks for the name reminder! I feel so sucktastic for forgetting names – but I do it all the time. I remembered yours because we had that discussion over lunch with a whole sub-conversation about your name! It’s like a cliché but it’s true: I have a terrible memory for names, but I never forget a face. (That said, I think Doug shaved his beard – or was it a fake beard that looked uber-real? – on Sunday and I think I almost didn’t recognize him and was never quite sure I had it right.) I was hoping to meet people and do lunch on Saturday… but I didn’t think I had the, ahem, cojones to actually say “hey, my name is wawawa; wanna do lunch?” Luckily, I didn’t have to!

    • And yes, re: the Pitch Session… shaking in our boots was indeed an integral part of the process. 🙂 I did my share of it, I was so nervous. But really, that is kind of the point: work out those nervous jiggles now, and build confidence (and skill) for when it matters. It was a great idea!

      • As much as I enjoyed my first writing convention experience, I would have loved more genre talk, and meeting more fans of it. So do you think you’ll go again next year? Seek out more conventions? Hmm, or do I have to wait for your next post for that answer? LOL

      • Nah, I can answer that here. And the answer is: I don’t know. Would I, if I could? Yes. But there are a lot of factors that will limit my con attendance that have nothing to do with the value I see in going to the cons. Expense is one – but it’s not even the top worry, I don’t think. Time is the major factor – time away from family and, to some extent, time away from work. As to next year – we’ll have to see. I’d like to go, definitely. I hope maybe I can. But I don’t know what the circumstances for me next year will be.

      • P.S. And yes, getting to talk genre (and also to talk thoughts on the specific series the con was all about) was especially nice. You didn’t have to wonder what anyone there thought of epic fantasy – you knew we were all pretty into it, or at least that we appreciated it. The love of genre fiction, in general, was very much in evidence.

  4. Stephen, what a great summary of the writing track at JordanCon, you made that entire track sound so enjoyable I feel like I missed out. I spent most of my time in the Forum track and in lots of hallway chats; I meant to get to know more people this year, but then proceeded to keep myself moving way to fast. And now I’m beginning to regret not taking a moment to speak with David Coe.

    • I did enjoy it quite a lot. I learned a few things (I’ll go into that more in a separate post), met a few people, and it was definitely worth it. Someday I’d like to do a con where I just do the hanging out and meeting people thing, but as this was my first I felt like I should stick with my mission. Meeting David Coe was great, I really feel like I learned a few useful things from him, as well. There’s always next time! I understand David Coe will be at ConCarolina in June – I don’t think I’ll be able to go (for reasons I’ll be getting into in another blog post at a later time), but if I could I definitely would.

  5. Lol! That’s funny about Leslie. I hope I meet someone that friendly at my first con!

    Those panels sure sound like a lot of fun–and informational to boot. Though, just out of curiosity, Stephen: How many 20-something-year-olds would you say you saw traipsing about those events? Haha.

    • I saw many anysomething-year-olds. I mean, seriously, I saw folks of all ages, from teenagers to grandfathers and grandmothers. (And yes, this con seemed to be equally-well attended by people of both genders.) Most of the folks were probably roughly in their 30s, if I had to guess, but there were definitely some younger and some older.

  6. Oh, Stephen! I forgot I was going to tell you (re: personalization of signed books), I asked Brandon to insult the review I wrote for The Way of Kings… the content of the insult he come up with himself. He is creative, right? Haha! Cheers! 🙂

    • I saw that in your Flickr set. I wondered if it was his own creation. 🙂 When the line attendant asked if I wanted a personalized signature, I choked. “A personalized signature?” I thought. “I guess I ought to get it personalized… but what should it say?” So I came up with something lame. And then, after Brandon actually signed it with my lame personalization I realized… “wait a second… that was stupid. That was a lame personalized message to me, except I am the one who composed it. It’s a dumb message from me to me.” And that’s why I have the new rule for personalized signings. If someone’s getting a book for me, they can have it say whatever they want it to say. But if I’m standing in line for my own signed book, I’m just going to ask for “To Stephen” so at least I don’t feel ashamed of myself when it’s done.

  7. Sounds like a lot of good sessions. I’ve always liked Eugie Foster’s short stories, and although I’ve never read Wheel of Time, I have stumbled across Brandon’s other series and like his books.

    I’m having a massive dose of deja vu, but I’m going to repeat myself anyways. [1] I only have one book signed (I thought it was zero, until I wrote this) which is just signed To me. However, I have two CDs. Neither of which I was asked how I wanted it signed. One was a swedish singer and my swedish at the time wouldn’t have been good so I probably didn’t say a thing. The other has a personal message to “Keep whistling”. I didn’t request that, but it was after a concert and I was talking to the whistle/flute-player in the Irish Trad band. With us was Franko, a friend of mine, who seemed to know every Irish trad. musician who came through Nashville. So it came up that I was a whistle-player so that was how I got that message.

    [1] What are blog comments for but naval-gazing?

    • They were good sessions. I’m still working through my “lessons learned” post – turns out I took quite a lot of notes, and remember still other things that for whatever reason didn’t make it into my notes. You may have mentioned your signed stuff back when I talked about the signed book Dear Wife got me for Christmas… although I don’t see it now that I look back at it. I don’t have anything of a musical nature that’s signed… but then I guess that’s not where the full force of my fandom resides. I like music – but it’s a part of the background noise of the universe. Without it, something’s off, but I don’t make a big deal about it when it’s there.

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  9. I discovered via Facebook that one of my former students also attended JordanCon; however, he would have been either in the art of costuming sessions (or more likely selling on the floor, since he owns an elf-ear company… they’ve probably broadened into more fields now).

    • There was an elf-ear company in the dealer room. Pretty hard to miss (though I didn’t look closely since I’m not currently in the market for elf ears). Looked like they had some pretty good quality ears. 🙂 Guess this is one of those “small world” moments.

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