Welcome back for the conclusion of our interview with Diana Vick, co-chair of the Steamcon convention in Seattle.
Part 1 can be read here.
AA: As you mentioned, conventions run on volunteers and there were plenty to be seen during Steamcon. How many people were involved to hold the event?
DV: That’s really hard to say. I think we have a core group of about 30 people and then there are hordes of volunteers and staff who work before, during and after the convention getting things done. Volunteers are our life blood and we really appreciated all the help that turned up last year. Hopefully even more will be there for us this year.
AA: How did all of those volunteers get involved?
DV: We had a small group of people who wanted to help from the beginning and then it was mostly word of mouth and online communities. I run online Steamcon communities just about anywhere I can. We’ve been lucky to attract folks from other conventions that have the experience we needed as well.
AA: The mainstay of conventions is panels, interviews, and demonstrations of various types. Where do you get ideas for the programs?
DV: We have a programming committee and we get together and brainstorm.
AA: Is there anything in particular that you look for in a program topic?
DV: Anything that people might find interesting or informative that deals with steampunk, Victoriana, writing or some related topic; some historical topics, some fantastical and anything in between.
AA: Where do you look for speakers/performers for those programs?
DV: We use local artists and writers. We put out calls for speakers and then people planning on attending contact us as well. Having been a panelist at general science fiction conventions, I feel that one or two people speaking on a topic is more interesting than a large random group of strangers on a panel. Unfortunately, not everyone is comfortable speaking alone, so we end up with a mix of panels and talks.
AA: When choosing those speakers/performers, what do you look for to get a quality person?
DV: We try to find people with something unique to bring to the table. I am adamant that we not run the same topics or speakers every year so that it doesn’t get stale. I had met Tim Powers before, and we were thrilled to have him as a guest. He is an intelligent and articulate speaker. This year’s writer guest of honor, Jim Blaylock, was at a local science fiction convention, so I made an effort to go say hello. He was also a very thoughtful and intelligent speaker and I am sure he will entertain and delight our audience. Jake Von Slatt was at Steamcon for one panel last year, so I decided to make him work a little harder this year and made him a guest. He is one of the most popular makers in the steampunk community and I think people will really want to hear what he has to say. Captain Robert and Abney Park are returning for their second year at Steamcon. I love their music, but Robert is also one of the most outspoken people in the community. We recently got to sit down and compare ideas, and I was very impressed with his views.
AA: Another big aspect of conventions is the vendor’s room and all the great items they bring. What kinds of vendors were/are you looking for?
DV: We just approved the first round of vendors for the Grand Mercantile for this year. Vendors had to have steampunk relevant wares. We don’t want the room to look like an average science fiction convention dealer’s room. It should be immersively steampunk. We also looked for diversity, so it isn’t a room full of jewelry vendors. Then we looked for quality. Competition is stiff and we look for the best wares to make a diverse and interesting room. I think that attendees will be really pleased with the diverse wares offered this year and the room is twice as big too.
AA: Along with all the planning of what the convention is going to be, marketing the event is important, too, to bring people in. How did you promote Steamcon beforehand?
DV: My husband, Martin and I dressed up in steampunk attire and went to other conventions around the country. I even wound up running the infamous “guerilla steampunk panel” at Dragoncon. We talked up steampunk and Steamcon everywhere we went, even on the street. I created online communities for Steamcon everywhere and listed us anywhere online that I could. I basically taught myself viral marketing and ran with it.
AA: With all of that work, you’ve had a chance to meet thousands of people. What kind of networking, associations, and new friendships have come out of your work on Steamcon, before, during, and after?
DV: I have made so many wonderful new friends. The community as a whole is very welcoming so I now have new friends all over the world.
AA: Looking back on the actual three day convention, what were some of your favorite aspects of Steamcon?
DV: Well, for me it went by in a blur and I didn’t get to sit down and enjoy much. I did get to see the tea party and fashion show and that was amazing. Other than that, getting to meet so many great folks and hearing that they enjoyed themselves was immensely satisfying.
AA: It was a fantastic event for me, personally, and everyone I talked with during the weekend was having a great time. As spectacular as it was, what are some things you would have done differently?
DV: Well, we should have had a bigger hotel. Honestly, we thought we were going to have a small regional convention when we started. We were warned that we would only get 500 attendees at the very most, since that’s what most first year science fiction conventions in our area draw. When pre-registration hit 900, we knew we had some hard decisions to make. Overfilling the venue is not only a fire hazard, but it’s simply not comfortable for our guests. We ended up capping our attendance and having to turn people away. I made announcements everywhere as early as I could and stopped promotion as much as I could. It was a very hard thing to do. We ultimately had 1,350 members. If we had known, we would have thought bigger, but we didn’t want to lose our shirts if we failed. This year, we are expecting a good sized turnout again so we got the hotel next door as well. It should be a fabulous convention.
AA: Needing two hotels to accommodate everyone and all of the events is a good problem to have! What are current ideas for Steamcon II?
DV: We are adding the Riverboat Gambler Night, the Airship Awards Banquet, The Artful Bodger’s Guns & Gizmos Show, as well as a second tea party and expanding the hours of the cabaret.
AA: With Steamcon II coming up in November, 2010, what suggestions and encouragement would you give to people who want to attend?
DV: Get your hotel room booked now. I believe that we have filled the Marriott, but the Hilton is equally great and is giving us the same rate. Getting your membership early will allow you to skip the registration line and ensure you get in. Even though we have two hotels this year, we may still end up selling out. We started a forum for people who might want to share rooms or find transportation to the convention. You can join here.
AA: Sometimes, it’s difficult to reign in the creativity and limit everyone and the event to just what can be realistically done, and done well. But, if you had unlimited access and an unlimited budget, what is one item you’d leap at to offer
DV: I’d invite Kevin Kline as a special guest. He was Artemus Gordon in “Wild Wild West” the movie and one of my all time favorite actors. I’m not sure that’s he’s a very steampunk appropriate choice, but I would enjoy meeting him. There are a few other ideas that might fit into your question, but we just may make them happen so I’ll keep them to myself for now.
AA: What advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to be involved in or produce a convention?
DV: Only do it if you really love it. It will be a lot of work. And give yourself lots of time to plan.
AA: Aside from Steamcon, what other steampunk things are you involved with?
DV: I began an online Zazzle store called Steamporium that offers t-shirts, gift cards and more. I write a blog. I give talks at conventions and libraries. I attend the Seattle Steam Rats meetup when I can. I even have a few steampunk stories that I want to write when I have time.
AA: What are your interests outside of steampunk?
DV: I have always loved science fiction/fantasy books and movies. “The Fifth Element”, “Brazil” and “Aliens” are my top favorite movies, but there are so many others. I will watch almost anything science fiction. I think my love of steampunk may have began when I saw “Journey to the Center of the Earth” as a child. I love to travel. Going to science fiction conventions all over the country was often my only travel outlet, but it combined my two loves, so I was happy.
AA: Do you find any overlap or influence of those interests with steampunk?
DV: When we were in Tokyo for the World Science Fiction Convention, we went to Tokyo Disney Seas. They have a section called Mysterious Island that is all Jules Verne inspired. It’s amazing; probably the most steampunk place on the planet! I do tend to find some steampunk elements almost everywhere we go.
AA: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
DV: I think the attraction of Steampunk is its optimism, its opulence, its manners, its curiosity and its romance. If we can infuse our everyday lives with even a smidge of it, we can’t help but benefit.
Thank you, Diana, for spending time with us and sharing your thoughts and stories.
For more reading and information, there are Diana’s blog and online store, and the Steamcon website. If you are or will be in the Seattle area, try to stop by the weekly Seattle Steam Rats meet up.