“Friends, Fun & Festivities” Nova Albion Con Report by Kevin Steil

Kevin in his civvies with Viceroy Chang. Image courtesy of Ay-leen

The weekend of March 25-27 was a busy convention filled one. Steampunk Industrial Revolution was in New Hampshire, Anomalycon was in Colorado, and Nova Albion was in California.

Steampunk friends, Matt Delman, presented Roots of Steampunk at SIR, and author Michelle Black presented Absinthe: The Green Muse at Anonalycon. Reviews of those conventions are here and here.

That leaves me presenting at Nova Albion with a wonderful host of new and old friends and acquaintances. It was a great weekend and the experiences left my clockwork heart and steampunk soul energized with creativity and filled with great happiness.

When I cannot use my personal airship to travel to a convention, the commercial airlines fill the gap, albeit with nickel-and-diming fees and intrusive body scans which are more about money than safety. Thankfully, the flights were without incident, which is about the best one could hope for these days.

One benefit, though, was that Cherie Priest was on the same flight and we had a chance to catch up a bit before and after the flight. We were only a couple of rows apart, but just far enough that we couldn’t continue talking without annoying everyone between us. We did joke, however, that while we live less than ten miles apart, it seems that we only get to see each other when we travel far away to conventions. Sounds like a dinner group opportunity!

Aside from TSA and lost luggage apprehension, my time at Nova Albion was more than fulfilling as I got to spend time with friends and made new ones. This is what the conventions and steampunk as a whole really brings to my life – people. The books, movies, music and games are all wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy them. The discussions of fashion, philosophy, and issues are entertaining and edifying. The vendors and merchants rooms are a cornucopia of treasures and material delights.

Samiah's vending booth. Image courtesy of Astra Kim.

Strip all of that away, though, and it’s the joys of spending time with friends which remains in my mind and heart once the convention becomes a memory. It just takes a simple ‘hello’ to get things started. At steampunk conventions and events, it’s easy to meet people and find common interests. I’ve made new friends by talking to a presenter after their panel, joining a public conversation during Lobbycon (the gathering of people in the lobby before the official start of the convention), and simply by complimenting someone’s outfit.

Plans had already been laid before the convention with friends about when we would see each other, and who was doing what. It wasn’t more than five minutes being at the Nova Albion hotel in Santa Clara before I connected with James Ng, he of the amazing Chinese Steampunk artwork. We had an interview scheduled later in the weekend, but first, I lent a hand as I could while he framed his prints and set up his display. For having a few hours of sleep after a 12+ flight from Hong Kong just for this convention, he was surprisingly energetic.

In short order, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker, Jaymee Goh, and Viceroy Chang  joined us, with much hugging and squeeing all around. Our group was complete and I knew we were going to have an amazingly great time together.

Friday panels had begun and soon we were all off in different directions. My first panel was an interview with Guests of Honor Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett. We had chatted before at Steamcon I and II inSeattle but now we had time to really get to know each other much better. In the course of the weekend we talked about our dogs, home renovations, steampunk projects, and made plans to connect again soon. They are wonderful people and if you have the opportunity, stop by to say hi and chat with them.

There was transition time between panels, which gave a great opportunity to chat with people in the hallways. I got my copy of Exhibition Hall 16 from Chris Garcia, greeted Kevin and Andy as they brought in their Tiki Dalek for the Museum showing, got and gave a quick hug with Gail Carriger as we passed in opposite directions, and chatted several times with Dan Sawyer, the Programming Director for Nova Albion this year.

The much needed dinner break arrived none too soon and our group was starving. One drawback of the area we were in was that there were no restaurants, other than the hotel’s, less than a mile away. Thankfully, we heard about a Mongolian Grill about that far down the street and we set off for nourishment. Or at least sustenance.

All of us had met new people during the afternoon and I was thrilled when author Ekaterina Sedia joined us on our trek for dinner. We had some great conversations, a lot of laughter, and a healthy walk back to the hotel.

It was also Steampunk Scholar Mike Perschon’s birthday weekend and we took the opportunity to continue the fun and frivolity by settling in for a dessert celebration. Mike was inconveniently unable to participate in the celebration directly, but we weren’t going to let details like that stop us.

Dessert consumed, it was time for dancing, the costume contest, and a performance by Vernian Process. James was swept off to be a judge and the rest of us mixed and mingled in the crowd, where I had a chance to chat with performer Veronique Chevalier. Charming and interesting, I had been listening to her songs, watching videos on YouTube, and corresponding online. After just missing her at Steamcon II, this was our first chance to talk in person.

During the stage transition, our group was hanging out in the hallways when the members of Vernian Process came by. One thing I love about our community is how we can so easily be fans-admirers-supporters of each other and so it was great to hear an exchange between Ay-Leen and Janus Zarate, the VP bass player, that went like this:

Ay-Leen: I really enjoy your music. I’m looking forward to the show!

Janus: Thanks, I enjoy following your blog! And I want to talk more but I have to go on stage now!

Frustrating how work gets in the way like that, but there were still two more days to the convention. It was only twelve hours into the convention for me, but it felt like a full convention had been packed into that one day.

James and I began Saturday by meeting for breakfast and setting up his artwork before the panels began in earnest for the day. As I headed off for my first interview of the day, it seemed like James was already surrounded by people admiring his work. His newest work, Key Keeper, sold out that morning, followed by the Imperial Airship and the Immortal Empress.

Major Catastrophe, who created the three story, self propelled, Victorian home, Neverwas Haul, along with his crew of friends and family, was immensely entertaining as his previous panel seamlessly merged into our interview.

He regaled us with stories of how the idea for Neverwas Haul came to him during Burning Man, and then how it came to be built from all scavenged and recycled materials. The whole home comes apart for packing and traveling, taking about five to six hours to assemble and about three to disassemble.

The home’s front porch is called the “Raver Rake” and acts as the cow catcher to scoop visitors inside.

Next up for the Major is a new project building a pedal powered vehicle, THE PARLOR CAR, to enter and display in the Steampunk Triple Crown – the Kinetic Grand Championship, Burning Man, and the Handcar Regatta.

After this, James and I made it to Jaymee and Ay-Leen’s panel, Steampunk Around the World, where they discussed multiculturalism in steampunk. Working together very well and playing off each other, they presented important topics in a pleasant light hearted manner which was informative and entertaining. Viceroy Chang maintained order during the Q&A session, and there were many good tips and pointers about navigating respectful inclusion of other culture’s ideas and imagery and awareness of how others may react and respond.

After that, we headed right into the :Going Pro: Contracts and Copyrights’ panel. There was a lot of good information from people who have been there, illustrating their points with personal stories. There’s a time and place to learn and pay your dues, but then there’s the time to get paid fairly for your work, and clearly a need to know the rules of the game and the layout before playing it.

One of my college courses had a section about contracts for musicians, and we discussed how the first page of the contract was about the money that the company was giving you, and the rest of the contract was about how they were taking it away. In this world of changing methods, mediums and deliveries, it’s more important than ever to know as much as possible to protect your own interests.

Next up, an interview I have waited seemingly interminably to do with Kaja Foglio from the Girl Genius webcomic. Kaja and her husband Phil, and colorist Cheyenne Wright, also live a short distance from me and like Cherie, the only time I get to see them is at conventions. I know already that a dinner group with them will be like the comic where hilarity ensues, although preferably without Lucrezia, Slaver Wasps, and man eating plants (although I would like one of those for my garden).

Kaja is amazing and we had fun chat which was recorded by Chris Lester to be podcast later.

Kaja having a tea break at the St. Clair Aeronauts' Tea Lounge

Kaja shared with us the origin story of how Girl Genius came to be, including a drawing of her by Phil at a convention to the files of old artwork which Phil had created several years previously. We heard about Castle Wulfenbach as airship and how their creative collaborative process happens over day to day events like folding laundry. All in all, it was great fun and an hour was far too short a time to chat. Hmmm, good thing they live nearby…

It was dinner time again, almost but not quite quickly enough, and this time our ever growing group was splitting. There was a previously planned “Girls Night Out” for dinner and Ay-Leen and Jaymee headed out with Ekaterina, Kaja, Cherie, Anina, Gail Carriger, and Alice Bentley in tow. All I got from them was this picture but they certainly had a good time.

That left Paul, James and I with a “Guys Night In” and we lazily went to eat in the hotel restaurant. Good food, great conversation, and no picture to share! It was shared moments over food like this that really make steampunk event so enjoyable and fulfilling – strengthening friendships and making new bonds with people.

Once dinner was over and the ladies had returned, there was more music, laughter, and another toast to Mike’s birthday celebration. Happy Birthday, Mike!

Sunday, moving a little slower for breakfast, our group reconvened with Ekaterina although we just missed Kaja and Alice. This was my busy day, starting with an interview with James, after he finished a video interview with Ay-Leen.

My first interview with James was last year for this blog, and it has been great to stay in touch and see his new work develop. I have to admit to being a big fan/supporter of his work, and his steampunk series lines two walls of my living room.

Interviewing James Ng. Image courtesy of Astra Kim.

James, the audience, and I had a chance to talk about how he started his series, how he had never heard of steampunk before and that it was his accidental entry into the community once people started seeing it and labeling it Chinese Steampunk.

We had a chance to talk about the actual creation process and tools, inspiration from Chinese stories and history, and little about how his artwork has taken him around the world. He’s frightfully busy for the next several months but hopefully we’ll see some new steampunk work from him within the next year.

Then came my interview with Cherie Priest. Despite seeing each other frequently all weekend, this was really this first time we really got to talk since our flight down from Seattle. We talked a bit about her earlier Southern Gothic Eden Moore series, the adventures of being a writer and getting published, or not, and the continued success of Boneshaker as more people learn about it for the first time.

Cherie’s next story in the Clockwork Century is Ganymede, about a submarine in New Orleans. The official flap copy for the book is online here. If you were one of many people who missed getting a hardback copy of Clementine from Subterranean Press, the trade paperback version will be out this year.

I did have a chance to point out to Cherie that after Boneshaker, Clementine and Dreadnought, I had expected the next book title to start with an “E” and that now Ganymede was throwing off my bookshelf. Yes, I told her that I expected two more books from her to fill in the “E” and “F” gap. She did respond there was Inexplicable coming along, too, and I said she needed to give me an “H: book, then, as well.

Cherie, you’re invited to my next dinner group, where we clearly need to talk about your titling strategy!

My last panel of the day was Building Fan Communities Online and Off with the amazing Jean Martin from SFSF. Jean led with great questions about social networks and media, how to get the word out, what works and what doesn’t, and how to keep the energy, enthusiasm and the group going over the long term. There was good back and forth discussion with everyone there and I left with several good ideas of what to try next for myself and Airship Ambassador.

Jade Falcon, trooping on despite her injured leg. Image courtesy of Astra Kim.

And with that, the convention wrapped up but the festivities didn’t. James had other plans, so Jaymee, Ay-Leen, Kaja, our new con friend Emily, and I headed out to dinner at Emily’s favorite Thai restaurant. More great food, more great conversation and bonding, and a great photo op at the Google campus (Googleplex, sorry).

Once James was back, all of us settled in for … more food! It was one of those times I looked around at everyone and thought of it like The Big Chill, Friends, and any number of TV holiday movies where friends and family gather together. While the convention was over, while we would each be heading to our separate destinations, it was moments like these which created and strengthened our friendships, and those friendships would be our lasting and continual connections, with email, chat, Skype, Facebook and Twitter support, until we see each other in person again at the next convention. Hope to see you there, too!


Kevin Steil is the creator and writer for the Airship Ambassador website and blog.

One response to ““Friends, Fun & Festivities” Nova Albion Con Report by Kevin Steil

  1. Pingback: Convention Extravaganza–Reporting from Nova Albion: The Wild, Wild East | Beyond Victoriana

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