Steamcon II Review

Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in Steamcon II: Weird Weird West, in Seattle, Washington. Almost 2,000 people came to town for the weekend to enjoy a wide range of programming activities.

Last year, I just attended and soaked up as much as I could in every panel, but drove home each night since I was close by. This year, however, I decided to get involved, starting with attending the organizational meetings throughout the year and continuing right up to the Wake Party Sunday night after the convention had ended.

Those early meetings is when it sank in just how much fun this was going to be, and just how great some of the people were that I was going to meet because of Steamcon. For me, Steamcon wasn’t just about the informative panels, the creative art show, the entertaining music, or the parade of eye-catching outfits. It was all of that and more – it was about the people I met and the friendships that were forged.

At last year’s Steamcon, I had a chance to talk with Mike Perschon, the Steampunk Scholar, after his presentation about the facets and character development of Captain Nemo. That led to more discussions in the ensuing months, meeting his wife and their friends at another convention, and forging a really good friendship along the way.

At Nova Albion last March, I had a chance to talk with Exhibition Hall creator Chris Garcia, and last weekend, we had a chance to bond a bit more over a panel about blogging with author Cherie Priest, and drinks later that night. Chris is a pretty funny guy who kept everyone amused and entertained by dropping some celebrity name in every other sentence!

Of course, it’s difficult to be involved in Steamcon and not talk with the co-chairs, Diana Vick and Martin Armstrong. I have been fortunate enough to share in conversations about movies, ideas, and generally good geeky fun not just at the meetings, but also over dinner and at the local steampunk meet up group. I have had some good hearty laughs in those conversations, and I have always learned something new and very interesting from them.

It was at one of those organizational meetings when Diana said “There’s this little awards banquet dinner project, if someone wants to take it on,” and I thought, oh, well, if it’s a small project, sure, why not, I could do that. It’s just dinner.

If you’ve ever organized a wedding, then you know what “just dinner” entails!

It was all great fun, though, and I had a chance to correspond with many of the inaugural Steamcon Airship Awards nominees. They are all great people and I really enjoyed meeting them in person and talking with them.

You probably already know that these awards recognize the achievement and contribution of people and groups to the steampunk community. The winners in the five categories were chosen by the pre-registered attendees of the convention and were:

Written: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore

Visual: Jake von Slatt

Aural: Abney Park

Community: Robert Brown

Potpourri: Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio and Cheyenne Wright

It was about this same time that I started doing the interviews for this blog. James Ng was the first and I quickly became enthralled with his artwork. I had a chance to meet him in person a few months later in Vancouver and tried to talk him into coming to Seattle for Steamcon. Unfortunately, he would be in Hong Kong at the time and wouldn’t be able to make it. Next year, James, next year!

Since James couldn’t make it, I volunteered to bring in my framed prints to display in the art show. To everyone who attended, I’m sorry his business cards ran out so quickly, but at least you can see his work online, and buy prints in his online store.

In the course of the year, I also met Diane Nelson through my friend Kym. Diane became a friend, too, while she was making my new Airship Ambassador coat. I was a bit overwhelmed when I saw the finished product, so it was only fair when she came to Steamcon to see the coat in action that she was also overwhelmed by the seemingly endless variety of outfits that people wore.

Steamcon, and especially the Programming director, Alisa Green, provided me with the opportunity to do interviews beyond my blog, for which I am most grateful.

Alisa reached out to a number of the guest authors and inquired if they’d be interested in doing an interview with me during the weekend. The replies started coming in and soon there were three, then four, then seven, eight, nine… Nine interviews during the convention in addition to the blogging panel and banquet! Some people thought I was a bit insane to take that on, but honestly, I could have done it all day, all three days.

It was so much fun for me to read up on each person weeks ahead of time, learning about them so I could ask questions beyond the basic “how did you get started”. Having sat in the audience at the Doctor Who Gallifrey convention for the last ten year, listening to Gary Russell (look, Chris, I can name drop, too!) interview the actors, writers and producers from the shows, I knew what I would want from an interview and I wanted to make sure I gave that to the audience now.

In the weeks leading up to Steamcon, I got to talk with each person, get to know them a little bit as a person, a bit more about their work, and a bit more about how their contributions to the steampunk community can impact all of us in positive ways.

My alphabetic roster included:

  • Michelle Black, author of The Second Glass of Absinthe.
  • Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate books, Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless.
  • M.K. Hobson, author of The Native Star
  • Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn, coming out next year.
  • Jay Lake author Mainspring, Escapement and Pinion, who also blogs about his journey with cancer and the treatment
  • Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker, Clementine, and Dreadnought.
  • Nick Valentino, author of Thomas Riley.
  • Jillian Venters, the Lady of the Manners from Gothic Charm School
  • Jake von Slatt, the famous maker of the steampunk keyboards and computers.

With each one, I learned something new, and found something in common.

  • Michelle and I talked about her great Victorian style home.
  • Gail and I talked about tea and our preferences thereof.
  • M.K. and I want to have lunch with Tim Gunn (I tweeted about this, too, so if anyone knows how to help set this up, please let me know. Chris, of course, said he might know someone…)
  • Caitlin and I both like cheese as comfort food.
  • Jay is a total character and I really enjoyed the time I spent with him.
  • Cherie has excellent stories and is such a great person to hang out with.
  • Nick gave me a real appreciation for all the work that goes into writing and book tours. Perseverance, commitment and generosity are traits to be valued.
  • Jillian was a wealth of knowledge about being true to yourself and how that can be a good thing to be a bit out of the mainstream. And she has the greatest everyday outfits.
  • Jake was great fun to chat with about how his work has been credited with enlarging the scope of steampunk beyond the original literary roots to include functional artwork and an ethic of building, creating and recycling.

One other thing I realized is that I wish I was on the steampunk publisher’s ARC list so I could read the books *before* I talk with the authors.

For all the people I did get to see and talk with, there weren’t enough hours in the day to talk to everyone I wanted to:

  • Ren Cummins, author of The Morrow Stone and Reaper’s Flight.
  • Abney Park – granted they were a bit busy with their own panels and performances.
  • James Blaylock, author of a sizable stack of books of mine that I didn’t get autographed L
  • Phil and Kaja Foglio, creators of the web comic, Girl Genius.
  • Everyone from the League of Steam.
  • And many more.

There’s also a host of people I wanted to talk with but who couldn’t make it this year – Kyle Miller, Jordan and Zandra Straford, Liz Gorinsky, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker, Jha Goh, Katie Casey, The Wandering Legion, and Myke Amend among others. (Myke, you can expect an email about your work, shortly.)

Because of steampunk, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to correspond with people from around the world, literally, and begin to build new connections and friendships. I wish I could attend everyone’s local group and regional conventions. I wish there was more time in the day, more vacation time, lower priced flights and hotel rooms, and a faster airship.

At least I am thankful for email, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, texting, and web translation services to bridge the physical distance between us. I’ve talked with people in Germany, England, and Scotland. There are places I want to see and events to attend in New Zealand, Toronto, and Edmonton. And there is so much more to learn about in Brazil, France, and Australia.

Steamcon was a fantastic and amazing weekend, and there are so many more stories beyond what I saw with my interviews and what I’ve written here.

Some stories are written in reviews:

Navigating the Slush Pile

Seattle Times

Seattle – Geekly

Nick Valentino

Michelle Black

Michelle Black – part 2

Cherie Priest

MK Hobson

Lex Machina

Alisa

Some of those stories are written in pictures:

Steamcon 2 on Flickr

Spacemansam

Dream24seven

Chris Hunt

And on Facebook

Taja

Dane

Michael

Michael

Michael

Michael

Amy

B.Fuller

Joel

Urza

Victoria

Scott

Gina

Aaron

There are a lot of conventions and other steampunk events going on this next year, so there’s plenty of opportunity for all of us to get out and get busy being social!

Steamcon III is already underway for October 14-16, 2011, and hotel rooms can be booked now. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Interview with Ariane Wolfe – Part 2

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview with Ariane Wolfe and Mark Anderson, co-chairs of the Nova Albion convention.

Part 1 can be read here.

 

AA: You mentioned that it takes a group of dedicated volunteers to launch a convention, just how many might that be for Nova Albion?

AW: About 50, all told, with 6 very talented and passionate department heads at the helm.

 

AA: And how were you able to get them involved?

MA: They owed us money… Seriously, these are people doing this through the love of the genre and a good time. We try our best not to get in the way of that.

AW: Most of them are either from that first group of friends who helped produce the first event, or their friends who they’ve brought in to join the fun. We’ve had a few people contact us from the website or social nets, but the majority of our volunteers have been in from the start.

 

AA: That’s really great to have so many people not only interested but actively wanting to help out and participate. A convention is generally a collection of activities, discussions and displays. Where do you get ideas for your programs?

AW: A lot of the ideas have come from what we would be interested in going to see… as folks interested in Steampunk and related genres, and who have gone to various cons over the years, what would we want to sit through? Who would we actually want to go listen to or ask questions of? We were hugely fortunate to have Tofa Borregaard heading our Programming for 2008 and 2010; she has a great feel for what will interest people, translate into a good topic or presentation… this year she handed the torch over to J. Daniel Sawyer, who has been working with her and he will be taking over Programming for 2011. Dan has already expanded it to include a fourth track and we’re really excited to see where it’s going. We’re also still open to ideas and we have room for new speakers on the roster… so if anyone wants to submit an idea, we’d love to hear it!

 

AA: Hmm, an opening for new speakers… J  When someone does submit an idea, what do you look for in a good program topic?

AW: Something that will both interest and educate folks, a subject that’s genuinely interesting to us, or that brings something unique to the table. We try to expand into areas that aren’t being covered, to get a bit more diverse than people expect, so there are some pleasant surprises. We started with two tracks of programming in 2008 – discussion panels and academic presentations (which is actually far more interesting than it may sound). For this last Exhibition, we added a third track to our programming – hands-on workshops and Maker demos – so that people could see various contraptions such as a Tesla Coil in action, learn how to make leather or metal pieces for their costumes and maybe have something to take away with them.

 

We also like to offer a very loose interpretation of what is “steampunk”, and encourage people to let their imagination run a bit to see what they can find. I recently went to hear Cherie Priest do a reading, and one of the things she said really stuck with me as a good example of this. I guess some people have written to her or found her online and commented about how she’s written her zombies, how some of the ways she described the city of Seattle weren’t accurate and the like… which completely neglects that the book is a work of fiction! It doesn’t need to be “accurate” (and really – who’s the authority on “real” zombies, anyway?)… regardless of what certain aspects of her writing are based on, that world is her own creation – so it’s hers to imagine and write as she will. I come from a background in historical re-creation, and I love the historicity (or Alt historicity) behind steampunk! But before you tell someone they’re “doing it wrong” or not being accurate (“Hey, that can’t be steampunk – he’s not wearing goggles!”), I think you have to stop yourself and say, “wait – what *is* steampunk? How many different things can it be?” and then keep expanding on that to see how wide you can make that definition.

 

AA: One of the big draws in any convention is the Guests of Honor. Where do you look for Guest of Honor, speakers, and performers?

AW: From within the Steampunk community, from the Bay Area… we look for folks who are diverse and interesting, who will have ideas that can be chewed on for a while or will give performances that stick with you as an extraordinary thing to have experienced. we do a lot of poking around online, getting recommendations by word-of-mouth, and we’re often contacted out of the blue from people who have heard about the Exhibition and want to be a part of it.

 

AA: Is there anything you look for in particular in a GoH?

AW: Again, folks who are interesting, offer a diverse array of talent, and really have something to share with everyone. We have had an amazing lineup of speakers and performers in the past, and 2011 is starting to really come together, too! One of the things I really wanted to bring together was the Friday night Ball… I am a big fan of the PEERS and Gaskell Ball events, which are period dance gatherings here in the Bay Area. So each year we have hired a band (in 2008 it was The Brass Works, and in 2010 Bangers and Mash) that can perform Victorian ballroom dance pieces such as waltzes, polkas and the like. Our Guests of Honor have included luminaries in the steampunk genre such as Jim Blaylock, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Phil and Kaja Foglio and Gail Carriger; Makers Jake Von Slatt, Jon Sarriugarte and Kimric Smythe… for 2011 we have Cherie Priest, Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett joining us, amongst many talented others. We try to bring in folks who have a lot to share and love doing so… because again, it’s a dynamic and participatory audience, and the bar is very high.

 

AA: Another fun aspect that people look forward to is the vendor’s room. What types of vendors do you seek out?

AW: I feel like our Vendor Halls are kind of a point of pride. I have been to Sci-fi and Fantasy conventions over the years, and when I decided I was going to start a Steampunk event, I went to a couple more cons, to get a feel for what folks wanted to see there. There was a theme to each, and I hoped the vendors would reflect that, and help to set the stage for the rest of the event. Some of the merchants were wonderful, with well-made hand-crafted items and creative stock, but a lot of them sold manufactured, cookie-cutter stuff that it felt like they’d brought in because it was an event with a table they could sell at, or because it’s what they always brought to cons, so why change for the theme?

 

From the start, I wanted to be able to offer a new and different experience, based more on the way that historical re-creation events have done it, so that the event would feel less like a convention and be more of an experience… where the vendors are part of the whole aesthetic, not just there to sell things. There are obviously limitations when you’re working with a hotel space rather than creating an entire environment – but I wanted to see how steampunk I could get our vendor hall. So I started going online and looking for vendors who sold steampunk or Victorian goods… going to ETSY, to the Steampunk Workshop’s links page and elsewhere in the community… I wanted the vendors to be people who were really excited about doing a steampunk event, and who would (if you’ll pardon a bad pun), gear their stock towards the theme. What happened was, we got an overwhelming response, and the first vendor hall sold out – with 100% of the vendors having steampunk items for sale.

 

For 2010’s Nova Albion we expanded on that idea, moved into a larger hotel and sectioned off more space for the vendors. We were more careful about balancing the goods, having learned that a LOT of steampunks like to make goggles and rayguns, modify hats and sell clockwork jewelry… which was all wonderful and lovely so long as you have other things as well! So we expanded the search, talked to folks about what represents Steampunk for them, and did our best to have a more diverse offering – but still all related to the genre. The tables were all taken about 4 months out from the event, with a waiting list.

 

For next year, we’ve moved once again, so we can expand even further. This time we not only have more space for vendors, we’ve got them in three locations so that vending is a bit better integrated with the rest of the experience. The vendor areas were about 90% full 7 months prior to the event date, and at this point we’re pretty much entirely sold out, with a few people on the waiting list, hoping to get a last-minute space.

 

AA: Getting the word out and getting noticed to make sure people know about your event can be a whole project in itself. How did you promote Nova Albion beforehand?

AW: Any way we can! (she said with a grin). Like Mark said a little earlier, it really does take a full year and more to plan Nova Albion. So during the prior year’s Exhibition, we advertise what the next year’s theme will be in our program, the Calliope, and offer pre-sale Passes for the following year. We go to other steampunk events and gatherings when we can, and try to have cards or flyers to hand out or fun promotional ribbons.

 

During the months leading up to an event, we’ll do a press release or two – as it gets closer, we start to feature different aspects of it on our website and encourage folks to join our RSS feed, so they can know what’s new and interesting coming up. We have offered free pairs of tickets for contest winners and such to help promote the Exhibition, and participated in stuff like Tor Books’ Steampunk Month. Social Networking sites like FaceBook and Twitter are great tools too… though I think you have to be careful you don’t inundate people with frivolous updates. If you constantly update your group’s status or send out daily notes, it can start to sound too much like you’re always wanting to sell people something, or like you’re electronically jumping up and down saying, “Ooh, ooh – look at me, look at me!” Nova Albion is a small non-profit, and we need to advertise and get more people in each year so we can make enough money to do it again… at the same time, I’m pretty hugely against marketing blasts and spam; I feel there has to be a balance between getting the word out and promoting our event, and making sure we’re not annoying people. We also send out email missives to folks who’ve bought tickets in the past – but again, we like to keep those kind of few and far between so each one is fresh and interesting, not repetitive and annoying!

 

For our merchants, we go through the Vendor Halls at our event and give our current vendors the opportunity to grab their space for the next one ahead of time at a discounted fee – so that way, some of them who already know they want to come back, can get their payment out of the way at a lower cost, and we can get an idea of who we’ll have with us, what other goods we’ll want… then they can go back home after the event and let their customers and fans know they’ll be at the next one.

 

AA: If you had unlimited access and an unlimited budget, what is one item you’d leap at to offer at the convention?

AW: Airship rides! How cool would it be to have a dirigible tethered out in font of the hotel?

 

AA: I would love to go on such a ride! After all, it is part of my name! What advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to be involved in or produce a convention?

AW: Do it! When my original partner and I put on the Steampunk Convention in 2008, no one had ever done one before. It was an idea we were both passionate about, and we just said, “Well, let’s do it! I’ll be there are plenty of folks who’d love to go to one, so… let’s make it happen!”. Even with a background in events, I hadn’t done anything like that before, and we made a lot of it up as we went along. I think the one thing I’d warn someone though is not to do it if they’re in it for the money. I think I can paraphrase what my dad once said about the music industry, and apply it here… “you know how you make a million dollars in the Exhibition industry? Well, first you have to start with TWO million…” OK, so maybe it’s not quite that bad… but it’s not a huge money-maker, and you’ll probably spend more out-of-pocket than you think, especially at first. Doing something like this is a labor of love – if you don’t really love it, there are easier ways to make a buck.

 

AA: Aside from Nova Albion, what other steampunk things are you involved with?

AW: I am the Fashion Editor for the online steampunk zine, Exhibition Hall (yes, heh – in my copious spare time!). One of the things I try to do with that is give folks a sense of what the dress of the time was or might have been, and show how to modify clothes they may already have, into great steampunk outfits. At the Exhibition, we have a costume contest so people can get acknowledged for the fantastic attire they’ve made and put together… it’s a cool circle, and it keeps people involved, it gives them stuff do to.

 

In 2009, we put on an event called “The Indescribable Delights of the Clockwork Caliphate”, which was a wonderful dinner event at a fantastic restaurant in Oakland called Tanjia. It was a great deal of fun, with amazing authentic Moroccan food, a wonderful belly dancer named Amira, live eclectic folk music by the Brunos Band… we haven’t repeated it yet though, because while it was a wonderful evening, we had been hoping it would be a fundraiser for Nova Albion, and it just broke even. So while we might do it again at some point… it didn’t prove a useful way to generate money for the Exhibition.

 

In my own time, I do a lot of reading (I’m about to start The Windup Girl, having just finished Gail Carriger’s Blameless and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker before that), and quite a bit of costuming for Nova Albion, Dickens Fair and various other events. We try to make it out to the Maker Faire and the Handcar Regatta… we don’t often get out of California to attend other events, but I’m ever-hopeful!

 

AA: Those are fun hobbies to have, and some great books to read! What are your interests outside of steampunk

AW: Reading (whenever I get the time), various types of dance, horseback riding (at any opportunity), a little sewing, raising some amazing kids! I don’t have a lot of free time, between the Exhibition, my dayjob and the family… when I can roll it all together, it’s a bonus! Costuming and historical re-creation has been a passion of mine since I was in my early teens. I spent quite a few years working the Renaissance Faires in both Northern and Southern California and the Dickens Fair since around 1995. Now I have a 12-year-old son and a daughter who’s nearly 18, and Mark’s daughter is 15; our kids participate in both the Dickens Fair and Nova Albion with us, so it can be time we all get to spend together as a family, doing stuff we love. Dickens Fair runs for 4 weekends starting the day after Thanksgiving, and we have 3 weeks of workshops before that – so for those 7 weeks (and really for a good couple of months beforehand as well for most of us, what with costuming, character study, rehearsals and all), we’re completely immersed in the recreation of Victorian London.

 

AA: That’s really great that all of you can enjoy something like that together. Do you find any overlap or influence of those interests with steampunk.

AW: There is definitely a huge overlap and influence for me, from Dickens Fair into Steampunk! First, it forms the basis of the time period and the general aesthetic. When you’re a cast member,  you spend three weekends in workshops and rehearsal prior to the opening of the fair – it’s kind of an intensive academy of How to be Victorian; you learn how to walk, speak, dress and act like a denizen of London; we take classes in everything from Victorian or Cockney language and how to dress your part, to street theatre improv techniques, what a day in the life of a typical person was, what was going on historically during Victoria’s reign, inventions and industry of the times… and how it all looked through Charles Dickens’ eyes. I’ll throw out a shameless plug for a minute here, for anyone along the west coast – the workshops and participation are open to anyone who wants to be a part of it… if you go to their website, dickensfair dot com, you can get all the info to be a participant or even just to go and experience it as a patron. I really recommend it for anyone who’s into steampunk and has the opportunity to go. I think it’s an amazing way to submerge yourself in what it might have felt like to be “there and then”… it gives you a sense of how an alternate history might have been shaped, where it could have gone, or why it would have, from a visceral point of view. There’s also usually a “Steam Explorer’s Day” for patrons during the run, where folks show up with all manner of gadgets, goggles, explorers’ togs and such and it’s a huge amount of fun.

 

Second, a few names for you – H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Sherlock Holmes. I know, I know – “one of these things is not like the others” – but while we’re referencing Sesame Street songs… “who are the people in your neighborhood?” One of the things that’s so neat about the Dickens Fair, from a steampunk and Alt History perspective, is getting to walk the streets of London or go into the Adventurer’s Club and see and if you want, talk to both real and created characters from that period in time. There is also a group there called, “La Legion Fantastique”, who portray characters from the works of Jules Verne. They’ve always got something wonderful and steampunky going on in their corner of the fair – and they’ll be at Nova Albion in March as well. Sorry – I can go on for hours about Dickens Fair; but it really is a unique and amazing place!

 

Ariane, that’s all great information! Thank you for joining us for this interview!

For more information about the upcoming convention, please visit the Nova Albion website

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Ariane Wolfe – Part 1

Ariane Wolf and Mark Anderson are the co-chairs of Nova Albion, the steampunk convention which takes place in the San Francisco, CA area. I first met Ariane in March 2010 when I attended the convention, and consequently, had a chance to meet many new people and make some new friends.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Ariane, that you for joining us for this interview. Let’s start with the basics – how do you describe steampunk

Ariane Wolfe: More than anything else, I think, I see Steampunk as an aesthetic, based on (or in) the premise of scientific and mechanical advances and the look-and-feel of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Steampunk “is” so many different things, and I like seeing the varied interpretations that people bring to it, rather than trying to pigeon-hole it. In other words, to me it’s not always steam-driven vehicles, bustle dresses, brass appointments and goggles (though I love all those things!)… and it doesn’t have to be set in London or even specifically during the latter half of the 19th century. It’s more like a lens that I look through or a filter that I can apply to stories, clothing, characters, a living environment, etc.

The other huge component to me is the “DIY” slant – the shift towards creating things you need or want around you, or buying hand-crafted goods from real people who put time, effort and love into what they’re doing, rather than impersonal corporate conglomerates that create cookie-cutter items. I’m not really a Maker myself – I admire greatly folks who can make something amazing from very little! My little piece of that is being able to sometimes take existing items… such as clothing or knick-knacks I find at thrift shops – and make them into something new and wonderful. It’s a very satisfying feeling.

AA: Before we talk about Nova Albion specifically, what keeps you busy when you aren’t organizing steampunk events?

AW: By day – well, by weekday, anyway – I’m a mild-mannered Business Manager in San Francisco. I also co-run the Clockwork Salon Society, the little non-profit that produces Nova Albion, with my sweetie (and Co-Chair and VP), Mark Anderson. The nonprofit work runs into the evenings and weekends, and at the moment most of that time is spent doing character research and costuming, and getting ready for the Dickens Christmas Fair.

AA: So, you are already pretty busy! Putting on any event takes so much time and energy – what motivated you to organize and run a steampunk event?

AW: We have this group of friends who try to get together nearly every Friday night to wind down the week, share food and enjoy each other’s company. On one of these Friday nights around April or May 2008, a few of them starting talking about steampunk and how they didn’t think there had ever been a dedicated steampunk convention. The more they talked, the more they decided there really should be one – and that if someone would put it together, they would go. I was working with a business partner who was looking for some sort of event to back – so I came to him with my friends’ idea of creating a steampunk con. He had been a fan of the original Wild, Wild West series and immediately thought it was a great idea. We started poking around on the web, and they had been right – we couldn’t find evidence of one dedicated steampunk event anywhere at that point – inside the U.S. or out. So… we said why not! I went back to the group and told them we were actually going to do it… and a bunch of them volunteered on the spot! Five months later, after much tearing out of hair and bemoaning of our fate…  after talking to bunches of steampunk enthusiasts, gathering more volunteers, booking speakers, hotel, performers and vendors… we made it happen. The Exhibition has gone through some refining and re-shaping in the ensuing couple of years… we learn more with each event we do, and I feel it’s really, well… gained steam.

Mark Anderson: A few things; there was the initial push, which was more social than anything else, and then the deeper idea of creating an educational tool based in the Steampunk aesthetic.

AA: As the social get-togethers led to an idea which led to a convention, what previous experiences helped prepare you to put on a convention?

AW:

MA: We both have experience in going to conventions from rather young ages on, and at Renaissance Faires. A lot of what we’re trying to do with the Exhibition is taking the best of both worlds and combining them in ways that’ll surprise the most experienced attendee.

AA: What qualities did you find served you well to put on that first convention?

AW: Some of the same skills that one needs as a cat wrangler; patience, passion, creativity, and the ability to look at the big picture. In the professional world, I have worked as an Executive Assistant, a Project Manager and Business Manager… all useful places to have a background in. My partner in crime has experience in Sales and Marketing, mostly in the publishing industry and has directed groups at the Renaissance Faires. You have to be willing to wear a lot of different hats and to work off-the-cuff a lot of the time.

AA: Trying to be all things to all people is pretty challenging! What was your biggest obstacle in trying to get things done?

AW: Heh.. time! There are definitely not enough hours in a day, days in a week or weeks in a month, for me. The rest is pretty much logistics – getting it all together, being able to decide what you’re going to do way in advance, and making it happen. We have an awesome group of volunteers, though – like I said, most of them have been doing this with me since the beginning, and they’re just a hugely talented and dedicated team of folks. There’s no way one or two people can make something like this happen – it takes a real concerted effort, and having people who love it enough to volunteer what spare time they have (and then a lot that they don’t) to bring it to life.

We’re also in the midst of getting our 501(c)(3) designation, so at the moment there’s a good deal of paperwork, and being sure we’ll be able to bring in enough money to do everything we want to.

AA: With all those challenges, and stress, what keeps you going? What are the rewards?

MA: Oh, like most people organizing Steampunk events, we’re in it for the money. (Yeah – That sound you hear is all the other event organizers laughing their brasses off).

We’re part of the community here in California and at the end of the day, we want to put something up there that makes the people we love happy; we want to surprise people, have them walk away with a great experience they didn’t expect, something they’ll talk about for years to come. But, again, mostly it’s the money.

AW: Looking around and realizing that we’d made it happen… we’d gone from, “Hey, why don’t we do this?” to seeing over a thousand people of varying ages, walks of life, genders, ethnicities… milling around a hotel dressed in neo-Victorian clothing replete with goggles and ray guns, talking excitedly about the fascinating demonstration or the great speaker they just heard… that was just amazing to me. Then seeing how many steampunk events have sprung up since then, and knowing I did my part in bringing it about… that’s pretty cool. It makes me feel good, and want to do more of it.

AA: Being part of that growing community, do you talk with other convention organizers to trade ideas

MA: Somewhat and, happily, increasingly. There is an increasing amount of coordination between the various events, starting with a lovely passport stamp project that seems to be getting off the ground with the Steampunk Worlds Fair folks . Who knows where that’ll go in the future – it sounds like a great idea, and we were happy to join in.

AW: One of the things I’ve done in the past, and that we’ll continue to do, is offer comp passes to other Steampunk event organizers. The best case is when we can do an exchange – they come to our event free to see how we do it, and when we can, we go to theirs.  We have also invited other steampunk promoters to advertise their upcoming events through links on our website, ads in the printed programs or by bringing literature to hand out a Nova Albion. Not everyone likes to play nice with others or to offer a professional courtesy… but most of the event organizers we’ve spoken with have been very open to the idea and several have taken us up on it. I think there are a LOT of steampunks out there, and they like to be part of a larger community – online sites like the Steampunk Empire are proof of that. Folks want to be able to go to various events, in different areas; as long as we as promoters are conscious and respectful of our neighbors and are careful not to schedule a new event on top of one that’s already happening nearby, I feel like it’s all good.

AA: That’s really great to work with other conventions and work towards a community of event organizers. What are some of the factors which contribute to a successful convention?

AW: I think the first thing, for us, is to get beyond treating it like a traditional convention. We realized after 2008 that what we wanted to create for people was much more interesting than that… it was more a reflection (if a small one), of the old World Expositions and Exhibitions in the 19th and early 20th centuries; something more participatory and exciting. I think even the presentations and panels have to be lively, have to engage the attendees; It can’t just be a passive experience. You also need to pay attention to what your target audience wants, and provide that – you can’t get stuck on trying to forward your own agenda, especially with a group as literate and savvy as the steampunk community.

MA: Ultimately, a convention or an exhibition is a reflection of the community that holds and attends it. In our case, being in the SF Bay Area, we have a delightful surplus of passionate people with decades of experience in both traditional Science Fiction/Fantasy Conventions, Living History Faires (including both the original Renaissance Faires and Dickens Christmas Fairs), and mostly recently, the Burning Man/Maker Fair movement, which gives us the maker tracks we introduced in 2010.

One of the challenges of organizing such a beast is letting the creativity and passion of each volunteer impact and change the finished product. Along the way, it’s a little scary, to be honest, but you get this sublime grace with the finished product, more of a chorus than a solo, if you will.

AA: As a reflection, then, of the people in the community and the varied interests among literature, fashion and art, what was your overall vision for the Nova Albion Exhibition?

AW: The Big Picture is having a place where the steampunk and Sci-fi/fantasy communities can come gather, meet up, hear wonderful speakers, trade ideas… maybe collaborate on writing or projects, get feed back… and over all of it, learn new things. Our non-profit charter is educational, and from the start we’ve had the plan to address that aspect of it more and more with each successive year. For 2011 we’re really excited to be working on a Teachers’ Guide to using Steampunk elements for high school, college and middle school English, History and Science curriculum. We’re planning to have at least a first draft done in time for teachers to bring their students to the Exhibition, where they’ll have a short docent-led tour and a set of activity choices their students can participate in, to earn school credit. We’ll be offering a student discount as well… whatever we can do to make it easier for teachers to utilize what we have for various courses they’re teaching. We really gather in a wealth of talent in our Speakers, Makers and luminaries from the steampunk world… and we want to share that with as many people as we can.

AA: That sounds like a great opportunity to bring in new people and increase exposure for steampunk on several levels. How long does it take to plan something like that, and a whole convention?

MA: Oh, you start thinking about the next event before the current one goes on. For instance, before we opened the doors of the 2010 Exhibition, we realized that there were many places we could go with the theme. Ariane started in 2008 with a western Steampunk event and 2010 was very much just bringing together everything we learned and making it work; as we got to the start date, there were all these ideas for how a Steampunk world would translate to other cultures, starting with Asia.

For 2012, we’re going to try something a little different, looking at a broader period than what people traditionally think of as Steampunk. We want to expand the focus of the Exhibition both earlier in time (Isaac Newton, for instance, spent half his life working on alchemy – who knows where that could have gone if things were a little different), and later, through the middle of the 20th Century, to what people are calling Dieselpunk. We’re still working through everything, but we can tell you, it’s going to be a great deal of fun.

This is a good place to take a break. Join us next time for the conclusion of our interview with Ariane Wolfe and Mark Anderson, co-chairs of the Nova Albion convention.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

 

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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