This year's writers workshop went very well (the workshop can be kind of hit-or-miss). I signed up not sure if it would do much for me, but because it was a thing that I wanted to continue. I ended up feeling like I got my money's worth in spades (and hearts, clubs, and diamonds). I should mention that the sandwiches provided were also fantastic (2 kinds of ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and olive relish, served with pickled okra); I could have eaten twice as much. Apparently all workshop spots sold out, which I was delighted to hear. Now if only we could get some editor pitch sessions started....
4th Street was in a different hotel, Spring Hill Suites. The conveniences of the suites were nice, but the hotel did feel too small for the convention. The consuite area with the food became cramped, though we also had extra space to hang out in the breakfast area. There was no hotel restaurant. There was no hotel bar (the better to buy editors drinks, my dear!). We had a free breakfast for everyone instead of a decadent brunch. I miss the decadent brunch. The decadent brunch was awesome.
There was no merchandise area. I don't miss this much, but it seems unfortunate that authors in attendance didn't have a place where somebody was willing to sell their books on consignment. That is a thing that seems useful, particularly since an "authors in attendance" sign implies "authors willing to sign their books, so you should totally buy them now." I was surprised by a couple of people bringing the MinnSpec anthology over to me to sign, and I can only presume that for some people that's part of the point of conventions. Maybe 4th Street organizers could do something like this? Though I suppose it would take an extra volunteer, and those are in short supply.
The programming was more diverse. alecaustin
did a fantastic job of keeping it from being the same people talking all the time. Somebody said that none of the panelists were on more than two panels, and that seems about right. Some of the loudest voices from previous years were much more . . . balanced, shall we say. As somebody else said, the first few reunion 4th Streets felt a bit like stumbling into somebody else's class reunion. All the class members are very excited to see each other and talk to each other, but people who weren't part of that class feel like the party really wasn't for them. That's not an effective way to make those other people want to come back to a convention. There was less of that this time around, with one notable exception.
At one point, Steven said something to the effect of, "We're running out of time, so I'm going to call on the important people in the audience first and then I'll get to the rest of you who have your hand up."
It may have been true, for certain values of "important," but that is irrelevant. It may have been said in a joking tone, but that is also irrelevant. It was rude and alienating. I desperately wanted to shout: "Oy! Don't be a dick to your audience!" Alas, in writing circles I am generally trying to hold back on smacking anyone down until I have a bit more published heft to back it up. Me! Exhibiting restraint! Everybody who knows me personally may now gasp in shock.
An auction was added in the intermission between panels, to raise funds for future 4th Streets. I could happily watch the very funny Ellen Klages auction things off for hours. Just sayin'. Things auctioned included hand-knitted items, a delicious Norske Nook rhubarb pie, a poker game, a fireman's hat, signed tentacles, a Singer bowl to be created to your specifications and coated with a glaze incorporating soil from Neil Gaiman's yard (the most tempting auction item for me, and the one most out of my price range!), handmade jewelry with a name and a story seed, and an as-yet-unpublished manuscript of MRK's new work. I want this to be a tradition--as long as Ellen is the auctioneer.
I wasn't part of conversations about writing. It just didn't really come up as a topic, which was somewhat disappointing. The exception is the random explanation of deconstruction that happened in the hallway, where I added my $.02 about expositive deconstruction versus destructive deconstruction. That was fun.
It may be a psychological thing: in a bigger convention, many of us expect to disappear into the crowd and not really connect with people who aren't already more on the friend side of the stranger->acquaintance->friend sliding scale; in a smaller, more intimate convention, it is easier to feel rebuffed when you don't connect with people outside of your own narrow group. Some of those who have been attending for a couple of years have naturally formed into groups of friends that, en masse, act as an introvert would--i.e. not being outgoing towards others (though they may have complained in the past about others doing the same!). This includes the local Minnesota writers group that I'm in. Heading for familiar faces is just more comfortable. I had a goal of always having a meal with at least one different person included, and it was damn difficult. A couple of people I would have liked to see at 4th Street decided not to go because they felt excluded, and I would not like to be a contributing factor to that in someone else. Edited for making unduly sweeping statements. I hate to sweep unduly.
Part of my difficulty may have been caused by me always having to flee during breaks to take care of the baby, of course. No lingering and chatting! On the other hand, a new attendee told me that I was the first person he didn't already know at least vaguely who gave him the time of day. This was after a couple of days of convention, if I recall correctly. Now, that ain't right. That doesn't even qualify as the much-maligned Minnesota nice.
Something must be done.
I think a "newcomers' lunch" would be a good start, whether that means hauling them all off to a buffet together on the first meal break or arranging a sit-down catered dinner for new people and people who want to talk to new people--maybe with some sort of randomized seating order and a pro writer at each table? Or maybe that should be done with everyone to get them all talking right from Day 1. I suppose the writers workshop sort of did that for those who attended that part, but I don't think seating etc. was randomized to promote social expansion.
Or maybe "Lunch with X and Y" groups going out to grab a bite, where X and Y are panelists and the rest are attendees . . . but you'd have to limit the groups, plus panelists do want to socialize with each other too, so it would all get complicated fast.
Still, I feel the need for some kind of mixer. Place to start: newcomers' lunch.