I’ve attended the 4th Street Fantasy Convention several times over the last five years, and I have to say, this year was the best year yet.
Topping the list of what makes 4th Street awesome is Janet Grouchy, (who actually only gets grouchy if you don’t pick up after yourself.) With several hundred people attending 4th Street, I don’t know how she manages to make me feel special every time I go, but she does. 4th Street is lucky to have such an awesome dose of Southern Hospitality in human form.
But there are many other things which make the 4th Street Fantasy Convention a must-go for writers of all types.
4th Street Fantasy Writing Topics
This year’s panel topics were the best yet. I’m usually able to glance at the list of topics and pick off the ones that make for a good bar run or break time. But this year there were plenty of Weapons Grade Topics for Authors:
- Misdirection, Dirty Tricks, and False Fumbles
- The Romance of the Breakdown
- Surviving Yourself: Self-Care for Creative Types
- Lento, Allegro, Chapter Break: Understanding Plot and Pacing Through Music
- The Phantasmagorical Cross-Cultural Sexual Cogitation Panel
- Hoisting the Lightning Rod Twice
- How Do You Play the Cards You Ain’t Been Dealt?
- Crossing the Genre Streams
- The Consequences of Communication
As an admin for the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Group, I occasionally choose and host the topics for our monthly discussions. So why should I even go to 4th street? Why don’t I simply swipe the 4th Street panel topic ideas and discuss them at MNSpec?
I attend 4th street because the panel discussions at MNSpec are like associate’s degree courses, while the discussions at 4th Street are at a Bachelor’s or even Master’s level. The presenting panelists have a proven track record of sales to traditional market publishers. Not to say that MNSpec members aren’t talented, but MNSpec has very few professional career writers, and fewer still who are making a living from their writing.
In a word, wisdom.
Writers go to 4th Street Fantasy Convention to psychically suck the wisdom out of professional authors. – [Click to Tweet This!]
Despite this level of professionalism, there is also a reasonable diversity among the panelists. That probably was more difficult to pull off than one might think. Someone remarked that it was refreshing to see panels that weren’t made up of all ‘white guys’. LOL.
Authors, Authors, And Even Mohr Authors
Between the panels, the majority of the Scribblies were generally hanging around: Emma Bull, Steven Brust, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly and Patricia Wrede. Add to this list Elise Matthesen, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch and many more local author superstars. Best of all, when you hang out with them for the whole weekend in the same place, you’re bound to rub elbows with them at least once. Let’s just hope that greatness is contagious.
But almost everyone who attends 4th street is a writer, so opportunities abound for discussions with people going through the same challenges you are. Some of the best discussions I had last weekend were expanding on the panel discussions in post-panel, ad hoc groups. I saw a lot of new faces this year and spoke with at least a dozen people I’d never met before. I made plenty of new connections. (Check out my related article over on wordsfromtheherd.com: Connection As Currency.)
The con suite was well stocked with plenty of nosh, healthy and otherwise. There was plenty of pop, coffee and cold water, and a dozen ways to get your sugar fix, and all included in the con admission price. After hours, there were plenty of ‘writing lubricant’ floating around. Some friends brought a selection of homebrew mead which was delightful and very popular. We had to tackle Emma Bull who tried to sneak off with a bottle of honey-cherry mead.
You might not understand the yarn swap until you sit down at a panel discussion and see how many people are knitting in the audience. The book swap was a table covered with well-worn fantasy and sci-fi. Have a novel, leave one. Need a novel, take one. Gamemaster/Larpster Kevin McIntyre brought a massive collection of games to fill the spaces between programs and into the late hours. And there was also afternoon tea, and the post panel music event.
Achievements To Unlock
As I said, this year’s 4th street convention was the best ever for me, but there’s always room for improvement, isn’t there? Truth is, the items below are nitpicks, none of which involve the real reason people go to 4th street in the first place. But consider the items below as bonus points and not rants.
It should be no surprise that many authors are also musically inclined, and so the convention hall late-night, post-panel, space-time has evolved into an open mic music night. Previously, this ‘jam’ has gone round-robin, but this year there was a set list posted that covered from 9pm till midnight. It wasn’t clear to me how anyone got onto that list. To be fair, I arrived after work on Friday, so maybe there was a signup sheet and I missed it? Anyway, the space was released for open music jams at midnight. Same with Saturday night.
The result was a great show each night. I got to watch Emma Bull and friends belt out “Home on the Range.” And it was great. True story.
Unfortunately, people like myself who brought music gear but left before midnight didn’t get a chance to participate. Talking with others after the event, there was a bit of dissent about this change. I see this as a result of supply-and-demand. 4th street has a large number of very talented musicians to pick from. And it seems that they did.
The structured version of the music night seems to use the same method they use to pick and schedule panelists, which sounds reasonable. But I think that the application process should have been more open and obvious. (And if people were hand-chosen, add ‘egalitarian’ to that list.) Half hour sets might have been better, giving more people an opportunity to play. Trust me, there wouldn’t be any trouble filling the evening with music. Coulda also got Cats Laughing to play a song or two. Jus’ sayin.
Where’s The Merch Booth?
Years ago, 4th street had a dealers room, which came in very handy. I remember after a panel about killing off characters, I dashed over, bought Scott Lynch’s book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, then zoomed back to the post-panel hubbub and asked him to sign it for me. But the dealers room is long gone. Strangely, they are still holding an auction after some of the panels (not every one, thankfully) with the goal of cutting expenses for the con. Seemith to me that a dealers table would help, especially when the authors are there to sign the merch! Not sure why this isn’t happening, but seriously, bands have been doing this for decades. Anyone else care to see a 4th Street Merch Booth?
If there was a vendor/merch booth, the auction items could be listed/shown there. The auction itself could then be held there too, (blind auction, perhaps?) This might make more money than a live auction, and eliminate the panel interruption…. which reminds me of another improvement that could be made…
The auctioning of items is kept quick and entertaining, and they try to cut the panels down to fit the auctioning in, so it doesn’t bother me too much. But I still don’t like that many of the items being auctioned seem like stuff they scrounged up the night before the con. Scott Lynch’s used fireman’s helmet comes to mind. As does a handful of plastic tentacles signed by the Scribblies. This year, a nearly-undamaged out-of-print, signed hardback of Dune was offered. Meh.
What really got the crowds interest was a hardcopy manuscript for Mary Robinette-Kowal’s upcoming book! It pulled in around $200. Previously, they have auctioned off a manuscript critique from Emma Bull and Will Shetterly. Now that is something that readers/writers will open their wallets for. Other ideas off the top:
- How about lunch with Emma Bull? (lunch with each of the Scribblies auctioned separately would cover an entire con, btw)
- Writing critique by Pamela Dean?
- Advanced reader copy, or the opportunity to proofread Steven Brust’s next novel before it’s released?
- Appear as a character in Elizabeth Bear’s next novel?
- A book blurb from Scott Lynch?
- Book Club visit by Patricia Wrede?
- A ticket to the (now sold out) viable paradise?
- A con poster signed by all the Scribblies?
A group of people smarter than myself (wouldn’t take much…) could come up with better things to auction, and I think they’d make a lot more money at the auction, selling things writers really love, and can’t get anywhere else.
Want even more moneys? Share the list of things up for auction in advance of the con. I’d save up some coin for some of these things, and I know other writers would too. These things shouldn’t be impulse buys. They would also give people more reasons to go to the con besides the programming.
Links for 4th Street Fantasy Convention
If you’re a speculative fiction writer, then get your ass to 4th street. I’ll see you there next year. Janet promised me Louisiana Coffee.
- 4th Street Official Website (2015)
- Fourth Street on Facebook
- Twitter Conversation Hashtag: #4thstfantasy