“Travels with the Airship Ambassador” — A SteamCon II Report by Kevin Steil

Self portrait at Steamcon II provided by author.

Steamcon II: Weird Weird West, was an amazing convention in Seattle, Washington on November 19-21. With almost 2,000 guests for the weekend, the convention offered over 200 hours of programming ranging from discussion panels to continual music performances, high teas to the art show.

The convention this year was big enough that it really need two hotels to hold all of the events, and as such, the hallways were quite manageable – busy but never congested. The Weird West theme was in constant appearance and people had a good, creative time with their outfits and mash-up nods to history and fiction.

Last year, I just attended Steamcon, along with 1,350 other people, but this year, I was fully participating in the convention. First up, I was moderating a panel on blogging with author Cherie Priest and Exhibition Hall creator Chris Garcia. We talked about how we each got started, and the reasons we continue, as well as some of the blogs we followed regularly. The top three blogs I heard people mention throughout the weekend were Steampunk Scholar, Beyond Victoriana, and Silver Goggles.

Steamcon II

In the dealer's room. Image courtesy of Lex Machina. Click for link.


Next, I attended the inaugural Steamcon Airship Awards. These awards recognize the achievement and contribution of people and groups to the steampunk community.

There were 80 people or so dressed in their finest evening attire for the formal sit-down dinner. In the glow of the candlelight, attendees had a chance to talk with the award nominees while pictures of them and their work were displayed on a wall sized screen.

Diana Vick, co-chair of Steamcon, welcomed everyone to the event and described how it came about. She mentioned how there is so much creativity in the steampunk community and that it deserved, if not needed, to be recognized in showcase examples of what can be achieved.

Following the gourmet dinner, which included filet mignon or salmon, Jake von Slatt and James Blaylock each gave a short speech about the steampunk community and the value of individual contributions.

Before James presented the first award, Diana presented him with a special award to recognize his significant contribution to steampunk literature, affectionately called the “It’s All Your Fault” award.

James then presented the first award, followed by Robert Brown, Cherie Priest, Jay Lake and Diana Vick. 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

After that, my work really started – I had nine interviews to do in the course of the weekend.

Jake von Slatt and I met for a 9am session on Saturday morning, and I think we, and the audience, were surprisingly awake. He discussed how he first applied a Victorian design sensibility to modern technology, as well as how he actually builds things using common tools most people have in their garage. Several audience members, including author Michelle Black, mentioned the impact and effect his work has on their own interest in steampunk.

The rest of the interviews were in a suite, set up with two very comfy chairs at one end, ready for a casual living room chat, and other chairs set up theater style for attendees.

Caitlin Kittredge was up first, talking about her book, The Iron Thorn, coming out next year, and how to get past writer’s block and procrastination. From previous discussions, I learned that Caitlin and I are both vegetarians and both enjoy doing a bit of gardening and landscaping.

Cherie Priest, who lives in Seattle, always has great stories to share. Cherie told us a bit about her early Eden Moore character and Southern gothic series, her experiences with Tor Books, and working with small publisher, Subterranean Press.

Jay Lake shared a bit of his journey through cancer and the following treatments, as well as some of the development in writing Mainspring, Escapement and Pinion. I thought Jay was amazing, and entertaining, as we discussed how it seemed like his writing habits may have changed during his cancer treatments but didn’t really seem to slow down. What I really took away from this was a clear reminder – “Writers write.” A story isn’t going to write itself, so just sit down, get focused, and start writing.

Gail Carriger talked about the Parasol Protectorate, and how real life friends intentionally or inadvertently wound up in her books. Right after this, she did a reading to a packed room from Soulless with Mike Perschon. As a reader, I appreciated her attention to detail and backstory, and as a writer, I really appreciated her approach to story structure, using familiar 19th century forms like gothic romance and boys’ adventure.

M.K. Hobson and I shared some good laughs about our mutual interests, including wanting to have lunch with Tim Gunn from Project Runway, as well as the ‘credomancy’ theory of magic in her book, The Native Star, reflected in some philosophical and religious ideas of a similar nature. If anyone knows Tim, please let us know so we can schedule that lunch!

Michelle Black, author of The Second Glass of Absinthe, and I talked a fair bit before the convention. In this interview we covered the efforts in fictionalizing real life people as characters, epublishing and her first ereader more than ten years ago, and of course, a bit about absinthe before her presentation on that topic to standing room only crowd of 150+ people later in the day. We only briefly touched on her work to document the Cheyenne language, and never quite made it to discussing her time as a bookstore owner. Next time!

Nick Valentino was great fun to chat with before, during and after the convention. We started off with the important topic, his beer reviews, and then moved on to life as a writer in Nashville, TN, and the great reaction he gets from readers to his book, Thomas Riley. One of my favorite stories is about the woman who bought his book on the first day of a convention and stayed up all night to finish reading it so she could talk with him the next day about it.

Jillian Venters, the Lady of the Manners, and the headmistress at the Gothic Charm School, discussed why manners are important, not just to Goths and steampunks but to everyone, and how to handles various situations that will inevitably arise for those of us who dress and have interests a bit outside the mainstream.

With all of that going on, I only saw one other panel – the aforementioned Gail Carriger and Mike Perschon reading from Soulless – and I did make it to the evening concert with Bakelite78, Ghoultown and Abney Park.

The music was entertaining, although I was only familiar with Abney Park. There are far better reviews of the evening’s concert, but I can say that the room was full but not overly packed with several hundred people. There were plenty of tables and chairs, and the dance floor was large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.

All in all, a great party with an endless stream of fantastic outfits, great conversations and really interesting people from all over. That’s what makes any event enjoyable, the conversations, meeting new people, and forging new friendships. With Steamcon, and steampunk in general, I’ve seen people come together when it might have been more unlikely outside the community.

Steamcon II

A young attendee. Image courtesy of Lex Machina. Click for link.


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


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

Lex Machina is a photographer and digital artist from Detroit, MI. She shoots portraits, fashion and events, which illustrate and celebrate the seemingly endless subcultures that make up the modern counter-culture. You can see more of her work on Flickr.

2 responses to ““Travels with the Airship Ambassador” — A SteamCon II Report by Kevin Steil

  1. Pingback: Steamcon Announces Closure | Airship Ambassador

  2. Pingback: Steamcon Announces Closure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s