My initial guess, because I rarely let facts get in the way of my opinion, was that Context would be an older con (by older, I mean the participants, not the guests. The guests are ageless.) It was my impression that Context was a con whose attendance was waning and they brought in Gary Braunbeck to usher in a horror track to reinvigorate the con, this being the second year of that experiment. Not much of a party convention (okay, admittedly, I traveled with some folks from my messageboard, so we had a room party every night), however, I fear that I might have misjudged smaller cons, this con in particular.

My basic rule of thumb on conventions is that you have to choose cons based on guests, opportunity potential, and whatever goals you have marked out for a successful con. Special Guest Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder asked me to consider attending and I can refuse them nothing. I knew some of my other friends would be there like Matt and Deena Warner or Horror Guest of Honor, Tim Waggoner. I knew that I wanted to get a chance to meet Tobias Buckell talk to Editor Guest of Honor, Ellen Datlow and get a real chance to pick their brains.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of how rabbis taught the Torah and the idea of a yoke. A rabbi would have his interpretation, the accepted teachings or his yoke, of the Torah and if he was to take on a student, that student that student would be accepting his teacher’s yoke (thus Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:29-30 for people to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”). The great thing about smaller cons is that you can really have the time to take on the yoke of a good teacher.

For example, I sat around discussing the craft of writing with Catherynne M. Valente (in and of itself and enviable delight) when Special Guest Mike Resnick walks over and decides to talk about the business of writing to us. For almost an hour, we heard about the ins and outs of the business, how to prepare for cons, how to maximize the revenue streams from your work. After a while, I had to drop my cool facade and just grab my notepad and start taking notes.

I had the chance to sit for over an hour with Ellen Datlow and Guest of Honor Maureen McHugh in one sitting and Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran in another. Again, people I have seen at World Horror Conventions or World Fantasy Conventions–and will see again–but never for more than a few minutes. The information gained sitting at the feet of people with so much knowledge about the industry is worth the price of admission any day.

Plus, if I haven’t already, I’m about to cross the line of this just being a name dropping post. So, moving on …

Peek behind the curtain and you could see the frayed bits of disorganization (thus Matt Warner’s bio under “other good folk” as being a “SF/fantasy fan” – which will be how I’ll refer to him from now on), but you could say that about most conventions. Likewise, the panels were hit and miss. I was on the “What is Horror?” panel, arriving at the con just in time to have Catherynne ask “aren’t you supposed to be on a panel right now?” While it was the only panel I had to do, I ended up talking at the “Author’s Blogs” panel anyway (give a man a blog and he thinks he’s an expert) – who cares, the panel served cheese cake. The Race and Ethnicity panel bordered on the surreal: a white audience asking a white panel about black characters and the reaction of black readers.

I liked the approach Context took to their religious panel. This is a common (Sunday) panel topic, but it usually ends up being either folks trying to convert one another or the lone religious representative defending his faith against its sins. So I usually skip them. However, this was a design your own religion panel which was kind of fun.

Context 19 was a great con, which I had prejudged to have lower expectations about. Luckily, I went anyway and met all of my goals and met all the people I wanted to, none of whom disappointed. In addition to those great folks, I got a chance to meet the delightful Gary and Nancy Frank (this differs from name-dropping. This is the random shout out). If the con wasn’t already a success by this point, it ended with a group of us attending a cookout at Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder’s house. I will never underestimate a small con again.

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