Carrie Went to Convolution 2013

What follows is Carrie's report on Con-volution 2013, which was held Nov 1-3 in California.

I had the immense pleasure of attending Convolution 2013, a science fiction/fantasy convention in Burlingame, CA, during the first weekend of November.  For me and my peeps, Halloween never really stops.  As evidence I give you the fact that I reported for work every day in a cape and on one occasion responded to an offer of candy (chocolate eyeballs, yum) with this statement:  “No thank you, I had candy for breakfast”.  Hee Hee Hee.

Captain Hook
Not even Captain Hook can make me grow up.


There are several different kinds of sci fi/fantasy conventions.  There’s the kind that are professionally run and focus on a particular kind of fandom.  In high school I went to a lot of Star Trek Conventions in Sacramento run by Creation entertainment.  They were known for having big name celebrity guests from movies and TV shows and the activities were focused on hearing speakers (usually actors), getting autographs, and things like viewing blooper reels and trailers for upcoming events.  These conventions are a blast but they are more about celebrating the studio’s creativity than about celebrating the fans’ creativity.  The joy of those cons comes from being part of a community of fans and feeling like you are in close proximity to the creators of stuff you love.

Two attendees dressed in full ball regalia for Goblin Ball

Sarah and Jareth at Goblin Ball. Fan creativity doesn’t get much more creative than this.


Convolution is another kind of convention –  one that is based on celebrating both the creativity of the guests and the creativity of the fans.  These conventions are staffed entirely or mostly by volunteers.  Virtually everyone I talked to at Convolution made something.  Maybe they were visual artists, crafters, or costumers.  Maybe they wrote a blog, or published fiction, or worked with film or made music.  Convolution was a hands-on sort of place, and panels reflected that.  Here’s some examples of some panels and workshops that were offered:

  • Introduction to Poi Fire Dancing
  • Build Your Ears
  • Cogs vs. Gogs:  The Steampunk Spectrum
  • California As a Setting for Literature

I moderated two panels and sat on one:

  • Romance for Geeks
  • The Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe
  • Raising Geek Kids

And of course we had Guests of Honor:

Brian, Wendy, and Toby Froud

Toby from Labyrinth - a baby in red striped pajamas


Remember the baby in Labyrinth?  Toby?  It was that Toby, and he was there with his wife whose name is Sarah, and his own baby. 

Grown up Toby and his baby

It was just so Meta and adorable that every time they walked through a room there was this vast, collective “Awwwwwww…”

Also, Brian and Wendy  (who are, among other things, the conceptual designers and puppet creators of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth) are so quirky and warm and friendly that I’m starting to wonder whether they are actually from the Land of Faerie themselves and they just stopped by to visit.  Their book signing session was very long because they hugged EVERYBODY.  They treat you as though you are their best friend who they haven’t seen in a couple of weeks and they can’t wait to make you cookies.


Wendy and Richard Pini

Later today, you can read my review of Elfquest.  Then you can picture me hyperventilating all weekend.  SO.  MUCH. SQUEE.  Wendy Pini graciously participated in the Edgar Allan Poe panel I moderated and I moderated the Q&A with them at the end of the session.  But I basically was just sitting there, you know, squeeing like an idiot while they said smart funny things.  Because they are awesome, and they created a world so rich that it became a second home to me despite being inconveniently fictional.  Thanks, you guys.

Richard Kadrey

The author of the ultra-violent Sandman Slim novels, he turns out to be a very friendly, soft spoken guy, who talked to me about how he consulted with the women in his family and friendship circle to create a voice for a female narrator in his latest book (Dead Set).  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the first Sandman Slim book (reviewed on, and I can’t wait to read Dead Set.

Couple dressed in steampunk style with a crow on one shoulder

This couple came with a familiar.


There was gaming all weekend, and Karaoke, and a masquerade ball.  And there were live music performances all weekend, and conversations like this:


“Look at my tail!”

“You don’t have one, did it fall off?”

“No, I mean, look at my coat tail!”


It was that kind of weekend – one where not only might someone ask you to look at their tail, but they could mean several different things by it, all equally likely.  There’s a woman drawing an intricate design on my daughter’s hand in ballpoint pen to keep her from being bored in an autograph line.  There’s a group of guys playing “Firefly” in the lobby at 12:30AM.  There’s someone waiting for the elevator with a falcon (a real, live falcon) on their wrist.  You can’t make this shit up.


Steampunk woman and man in full costume

This couple was also fantastic and they do a mean karaoke duet!


So what did I get out of this event?  Well, fun, obviously, and a dash of romance.  True story:  my husband dared the streets of Burlingame to find me a mocha, which he brought to my “Romance for Geeks” panel.  Romance heroes take note – that’s how it’s done.  I had the joy of sharing common interests with my mom and my daughter, who came up for the day so they could see me moderate my first panel ever.  And I experienced the delight and honor of meeting some of my artistic heroes.

Woman dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast

Belle, at the Goblin Ball


But lately, I’ve been getting something new out of cons, as I’ve been focusing more on my own writing, and it’s this:  I’m learning how to treat other people by observing the graciousness of the guests and the kindness of my fellow convention-goers.  Since I started writing and blogging with a serious hope of making this a career, I’ve been nurtured and supported by the writing community in a way I never imagined.  Wendy and Brian Froud and Wendy and Richard Pini and Richard Kadrey meet hundreds of people a day at these events – sometimes thousands of people a day, and they still make time to greet me as though I am a unique individual that they are pleased to meet, and they listened to my ideas with kindness and respect.  I love seeing established artists give a generous hand out to newbies and I love seeing all these business cards pass from hand to hand.

I’m kind of a shy person so mingling is hard for me.  But every time I go to one of these cons and I stand awkwardly in a corner, someone approaches me, introduces him or herself, and says, “So, who do you want to meet?  Let me introduce you!  And given what you work on, you really should meet so-and-so, so I’ll introduce you to them”.  This is community at it’s finest.

The sci fi/fantasy community is a family, but we’re still a pretty dysfunctional family.  Like many communities, we are struggling with issues like sexism, homophobia, and racism.   But a look at the large number of panels at conventions as diverse as the relatively small Convolution and the insanely huge San Diego Comic-Con that are devoted to topics like preventing harassment and writing about, and reading about, more diverse characters, shows how hard we (at least most of us) are trying to grow. 

There’s a now famous piece of art with the title, “You’ll be safe here”. 

Illustration of characters from all parts of fandom and comics greeting a young person

I find this print to be both incredibly moving and powerfully challenging – the predominance of white faces and the lack of LGBT superheroes suggests that maybe not everyone does feel safe here, at least, not yet.  We are struggling to make science fiction and fantasy conventions safe for everyone, and I recognize how far we have to go. 

But I’m also deeply grateful that for me, these conventions have always been a safe space, from my first convention as an angsty teen to my most recent convention as a middle-aged fledging writer.   This was my first convention as a guest and to be sitting at those panels as an actual panelist was an unbelievable honor, not because I was among fans, but because I was among family.


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Darlynne says:

    I’d never heard of this convention and it sounds wonderful, thank you so much for reporting on it. “You’ll Be Safe Here” makes me smile and cry at the same time, such an important message to share, to work on.

    One day, I will get to Comic-Con, but I do like the idea of a convention that celebrates fans, too, and makes them welcome. Is there a fantasy-scifi writers’ conference that lets squeeing people like me participate?

  2. 2
    CarrieS says:

    @Darlyne – sure there is!  I don’t know what area you live in.  If you gouge sic fi/fantasy conventions, and then look at some of the panels from the last year, it will give you since of if it has a lot of fan and writers stuff or if it’s more “hear speakers, buy stuff, get autographs” based.

  3. 3
    CarrieS says:

    I meant google, not gouge :)

    Comic Con is interesting because it’s sort of both types of Con crammed into one space – you have all these smaller panels for discussion and then you have Hall H with the big name speakers.

  4. 4
    Angstriddengoddess says:

    Hmmm. At this rate, I’ll have to stop calling the town Boringame. Suggestion: for coffee, try Piccolos. Support the local stores.

  5. 5
    jimthered says:

    Awesome description (and photos).  It’s also a reminder that so much of fandom isn’t trolls blasting everyone on the Internet, but people who are kind and creative and ready to celebrate with one another.  Woot!

  6. 6
    LisaJo885 says:

    I’m good friends with one of the volunteers of Convolution (Cindi, aka Pinky, you can’t miss her pink hair) and shared your links with her. This was her comment: “Cool! I’m so glad she enjoyed it. That’s why we keep doing it, even though a week before con you’re exhausted and hate everyone, then you get there and see the people enjoying this thing that you built, and suddenly it’s all worth it.”

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