Every year about this time, I travel to the Twin Cities for Diversicon. It’s a small convention, about 100 people, but over the last 20 years has attracted terrific guests and fans. Last weekend, I attended Diversicon 21.
In a later post I may go into why and how a kid from California became a regular panel participant in a small Minnesota convention, but for now, simply accept the fact: this is what I do.
One of the great things about Diversicon is its programming, which, as the name of the convention suggests, is diverse. It covers science fiction and fantasy, and touches on literature, films, and TV. The panelists come prepared. The attendees come prepared. fights don’t exactly break out, but frank and spirited discussions take place. Oh, and the people are smart. They aren’t afraid to be intellectual. They manage, however, to be smart and intellectual in a polite, Minnesota sort of way. They talk, but they also listen. I always come back home energized. Last weekend was no exception.
All of the above does not prevent trepidation on my part every year as I open my programming schedule. It’s always an emotional thing. This year, as others, followed the familiar pattern of interest, excitement, dismay, and “…did I really volunteer to moderate that?” I always have to remind myself that moderating can be easier than being a panelist…you don’t need to know much yourself. All you need to do is come up with a bunch of questions. Asking questions is always a good tactic if you don’t know the answer yourself–and sometimes, even if you think you do.
Another aspect of moderating has to do with structure. This can mean keeping the panel on-topic, reining in an overly talkative panelist or audience member. I strive for balance. Allow audience participation, but make sure the panelists have priority. You can defer all audience questions until the end, but sometimes it pays to be flexible. On the Sunday afternoon Iain M. Banks memorial panel, for instance, I had four very knowledgeable and distinguished panelists. I therefore went in with the notion of being fairly restrictive with audience participation, so that I would have ample time to pick the distinguished panelists’ brains thoroughly clean.
No need to worry. All but one audience member were content just to listen, and the one who did talk was as knowledgable as the panelists. I picked his brain as thoroughly as I did the panelists’.
I was on a Friday afternoon panel on “Recapturing a Sense of Wonder.” I approached that panel with some trepidation: Upon careful reading of the program, which I apparently had not bothered to do before volunteering, it appeared to have a lot to do with YA fiction, which I have only passing familiarity with. And, the panel included Jack McDevitt, Guest of Honor. When a Guest of Honor is on the panel, one can be a bit self-conscious about one’s role as fellow panelist.
But Jack didn’t come to play Visiting Celebrity. He spoke knowledgeably, and he listened attentively to anything anyone else said. Jack McDevitt is a genuine, charming Guest of Honor, as well as being a terrific writer.
A word about the Special Guests: Catherine Lundoff is a sunny and energetic presence, and also a terrific writer. Roy C. Booth showed us his very strange short film, “The Day Lufberry Won It All.” I need to watch it again, so I bought a copy.
Diversicon 22 will happen July 25-27 in St. Paul, MN. If you like small, serious-but-relaxed SF conventions. I recommend it. If you go, don’t forget to ask a lot of questions.
Oh, and the yellow shoes? I wished to demonstrate that a weekend convention wardrobe could be built around a single, colorful accessory. I succeeded, pairing the yellow shoes with a series of neutral clothing. No one, however, appeared to notice. The programming was that good.