Category Archives: CONvergence

These posts relate to the convention itself.

Geek Culture on Twin Cities Geek… and upcoming signing party at CONvergence.

I was thrilled to read this review of my book on the Twin Cities Geek site today.

Also, there will be a book signing party at CONvergence in the Bag End party room, Friday, July 1, 3 -5 p.m. I do not have a table in the Dealers Room at CONvergence, and sales are not allowed in party rooms. You can buy the book ahead of time and bring it to the party (check Source Comics & Games in Roseville or Common Good Books in St. Paul, or order from Amazon.com). You can also buy it on my Square store and pick it up at the signing party.

“Do We Really Need ‘Princesses’ Anymore?” Reading List

I let this blog go for a while. I’ve had my hands full with full-time work, parenting, and trying to make Geek Culture a reality. I’m resurrecting this to share a reading list for a panel I was on.

The panel, “Do We Really Need ‘Princesses’ Anymore?”, was held this morning at CONvergence. I loved the discussion and was a little in awe of the fact that I was sitting next to an author on my “to-read” list. 🙂 I don’t believe that we need princesses; I’m all for recognizing the worth of “ordinary” people (isn’t that a point Tolkien made in The Lord of the Rings?). But I think our kids are surrounded by princesses as role models, so we might as well expose them to strong ones. The list below features books with strong princesses who make good role models.

I have to add: Being an introvert, I always think of things I should have said after the fact. I realized after the panel discussion that, while princesses really aren’t a big deal in the modern world, particularly a democracy like the United States, we really do live in a society with dynasties. The Bushes, the Clintons, the Kardashians… They may not be royalty, but they fill the role of royalty in America. Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

One last note before I post the list: Geek Culture is not dead. I hope to have something to post about it in the next week or so.

Kate

Strong Princesses in Literature for the Young, the Young-at-Heart and Their Families

Picture books

The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton – Although in many ways very pink, sparkly and girly, this fairy-princess obsessed girl also contradicts others’ views of fairy princesses.

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett – An infant princess and piglet are accidentally swapped, and the princess is raised in poverty by loving parents.

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke – A princess learns to be a knight and wins her own hand in marriage in a tournament.

Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke – Bored of being a princess, Isabella rebels. She is eventually banished to the pigsty, where she is very happy.

Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman – A princess-obsessed girl redefines princesses – for herself and her community.

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson – Contrasts Cinderella, pitiful, helpless and shallow, with Cinder Edna, practical, fun and capable. (One of my favorites)

Princesses Are Not Quitters! By Kate Lum – Three princesses decide to be servants for a day. After their hard day, they make life easier on their servants… and they continue to do many of the chores.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch – A dragon burns down Elizabeth’s castle (also destroying her clothes) and carries off her betrothed, Prince Ronald. Wearing a paper bag, she rescues Ronald, only to discover he’s not worth the trouble. (Another favorite)

Sleeping Bobby by Mary Pope Osborne and Will Osborne – A gender-neutral, otherwise very faithful retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Prince Bob is Sleeping Beauty, gifted with kindness, courage and modesty, “qualities that anyone might wish for and admire.” He is rescued by an unnamed princess who shares his virtues. (Also one of my favorites)

Part-time Princess by Deborah Underwood – An ordinary girl turns into a princess at night. In frilly dresses, she regularly saves her kingdom from disaster. (Yet another favorite)

Easy readers

The Princess in Black  by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale – A perfect princess and her supposed unicorn are secretly a monster-fighting duo.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Princeless – An amazing, awesomely feminist series (Can you tell it’s one of my favorites?)

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale – Rapunzel in a Weird West universe

Wonder Woman – Need I say more?

Books for Older Children and Teens

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson – The princess is strong, but the author’s attempt to write a body-positive story hasn’t gone over well with many people. There are more books in the series, but I haven’t read them yet.

The Goose Girl and The Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale – All of these books feature strong female characters, including princesses. There is a heavy emphasis on romance.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede – Funny book featuring a princess who is definitely a role model. There are more books in the series, but I haven’t read them all. (A favorite)

YogaQuest and a Bat’leth Tournament

 

Photo of a YogaQuest session
Justine “Justini Yogini” Mastin leads a YogaQuest session at CONvergence. Photo by Emmerlee Sherman.

I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of information about Geek Culture on this blog. One chapter, “You Can’t Find This Anyplace Else,” covers two special events at CONvergence: YogaQuest and the 13th annual IKV WarHammer Invitational Bat’leth Tournament. I also include a sidebar on “Geek Physique,” which is part of the Twin Cities’ Geek Partnership Society, and another sidebar explaining “boffing.”

Here are two tidbits about each of the special events featured in the chapter.

On YogaQuest:

“We call YogaQuest classes ‘a geek’s gateway drug,’ because people come, and they try it, and they say, ‘You know what? I really like hanging out with these people, and I really like this movement that my body’s doing, and I feel good,’ and so some geeks that I never thought would start coming to the traditional classes are becoming members of the studio.” — Justine “Justini Yogini” Mastin

On fighting with a bat’leth (made of foam wrapped with duct tape):

“A lot of it is ‘Hey, let’s get together with padded weapons and see what works.’ I did bo staff and tae kwon do many years ago. Some people extrapolated from sword and other things they already know. Just kind of playing with it, you can learn it in about five minutes. Now you won’t be good at in five minutes, but you can get a general idea of how it works.” — Laura Thurston

If you are interested in Geek Culture, please go to my Kickstarter campaign and contribute. You can get a photo from the book, the book itself, even a tour of CONvergence!

 

 

 

Geek Culture’s Chapter on Dealers

Julie Bowman looks at a stuffed dragon
Julie Bowman, founder of Mythical Creations, and one of her stuffed dragons. Photo by Emmerlee Sherman.

Among the chapters I include in Geek Culture is one on the vendors in the Dealers Room.

I interviewed four people for the chapter, but one of them was rather taciturn, so I didn’t include that interview. This left me with three vendors, and I just realized last night that all of them are women! So be it. In Geek Culture, you will meet:

Heather Luca, founder of Scoundrelle’s Keep: Heather specializes in corsetry.

Amy Roth, founder of Surly-Ramics: Amy creates jewelry designed to spark dialogue and encourage people to think critically.

Julie Bowman, founder of Mythical Creations: Julie’s current work includes stuffed dragons and winged cat puppets, among other things.

How Do You Define “Geek”?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people during which they asked me to define “geek,” so I’ll attempt to do so here. There’s been plenty of discussion about the definition of “geek” and the differences between “geeks” and “nerds,” including this oft-cited post by Burr Settles, where he analyzed the words that typically occur in tweets that include either term. His conclusion?

Both are dedicated to their subjects, and sometimes socially awkward. The distinction is that geeks are fans of their subjects, and nerds are practitioners of them. A computer geek might read Wired and tap the Silicon Valley rumor-mill for leads on the next hot-new-thing, while a computer nerd might read CLRS and keep an eye out for clever new ways of applying Dijkstra’s algorithm. Note that, while not synonyms, they are not necessarily distinct either: many geeks are also nerds (and vice versa).

Since the focus of Geek Culture is on the people who attend the sci-fi and fantasy convention CONvergence, I think it is fair to say that I spoke with plenty of geeks and nerds, using Burr’s definitions. I was very impressed with some of the people I think could be called “nerds” — people like Laura Thurston, who helped translate a play into Klingon, and Ted Henderson, who looks for new ways to use Legos to create costumes — but in the end, CONvergence is for fans of science fiction and fantasy, so it seems proper to use the word “geek” when I refer to the folks who attend the con.

That said, I already had a name for the book I wanted to write before Burr blogged about geeks and nerds. When I was thinking of a title, Geek Culture seemed right. Despite fandom sites like Nerdist, Nerd Culture just doesn’t ring true.

When I’m talking about geeks, am I only talking about fans of science-fiction or fantasy? Despite the fact that the CONvergence is defined as a sci-fi and fantasy convention, I’d say that almost everyone who visits the con would agree that there are several areas of interest outside of these specific realms that attract the sort of people who attend CONvergence. For example:

  • Many geeks are interested in science. There will typically be several panels specifically on science during CONvergence (in 2013, this included “The War on Science” and “Science Resources for Children”).
  • Geeks love cosplay and costumes. On the whole, the costumes you see at a convention like CONvergence are related to characters in movies, comics, video games, and other media, but I’ve also seen historical costumes (such as some men dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers) and references to other areas of pop culture (such as the BBC TV series Sherlock).
  • Speaking of Sherlock, geeks often love pop culture that falls outside the realm of sci-fi and fantasy. The 2013 CONvergence had a panel on Downton Abbey (the theme of the convention was “British Invasion,” so the panel was related to the convention’s theme).
  • Many geeks attend the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Outside of specific conventions, the Renaissance Festival was the most popular event that came up in my conversations with people.
  • Geeks often love making things — costumes, elaborate party rooms that resemble the interior of an airship, a portable air-conditioning unit, replicas of television and movie props, you name it! I’ve seen some amazing creativity and workmanship at the conventions I attend.

This is a partial list of possible geeky areas of interest, and of course none of them refer to all geeks. The folks at CONvergence are a pretty diverse bunch, united in our obsessive and somewhat eccentric interests. I think the word “geek” suits us well.

CONvergence Party Rooms in Geek Culture

A picture of the outside decor for the Twin Cities Ghostbusters party room
Outside the Twin Cities Ghostbusters party room. Photo by Emmerlee Sherman.

Party rooms are a big part of CONvergence for many attendees. Several of the 2013 rooms are featured in Geek Culture. Some were still going strong in 2014, while others had closed their doors – temporarily or for good. Here’s what you’ll find:

Ochaya

“We have a lot of people who stay and form friendships with new people, or they come in with their friends and are able to talk. It isn’t a lot of screaming and trying to hear each other over stuff.” – Amaya Goldsmith

Still active in 2014, Ochaya offers tea in a restful atmosphere. I’m an introvert who sometimes needs a peaceful retreat,  so this is one of my favorite rooms.

House of Toast

“Lots of people try to shock you when you’re working in the topping line. They’ll say, ‘Can I have pickled cactus with Nutella?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, sure, that’s not the grossest thing I’ve put together tonight.’” – Nancy Sims

If you’re new to CONvergence, you might wonder about the line you’ll find leading up to House of Toast. A part of the con for several years, this room offers party-goers the opportunity to eat a slice of toast with a mind-boggling selection of toppings.

Worship the Goddesses

“I think one of the most interesting things is that our room actually has an activity, something you’re supposed to do.” – Will

Worship the Goddesses, which ran from 2008 through 2013, featured women dressed as mythological goddesses. The room’s goddesses or female party-goers were “worshipped” by men with a love poem or serenade. In 2014 one of the room’s hosts, Sarah Richard, co-hosted a Rocky Horror-themed party room in its place.

The Brass Falcon Airship

“Instead of going home from work and drinking beer and watching sports, I [make things].”—Samuel McClelland

The Brass Falcon Airship was a steampunk-themed room made to look like the interior of an airship. During my visit with host Samuel McClelland, the room was very busy with people exploring the elaborate instrument panels and other features of the room. The party room was not at CONvergence in 2014.

IKV Rakehell

“The best thing about being a Klingon is that you get to be surly.” — Kris Spiesz

Another long-running party room, the IKV Rakehell was not around in 2014. Members of IKV Rakehell usually host a room at Marscon and one at CONvergence. The set-up is basically the same, but the decor changes from year to year to match each con’s theme.

USS Nokomis

“When movie premieres come out, we work with theaters to bring out sets.” – Captain Mary

Another Star Trek-inspired room, this one has a Federation theme from the original series. The party room, still going strong in 2014, features impressive props built by some of the group’s members, including a three-person transporter pad and a control panel.

Twin Cities Ghostbusters

“Jason owned a white Chevy Caprice wagon, and he thought, ‘For Halloween, I should make that into a Ghostbuster car.’” – Ryan

This room has been at CONvergence for four years, including in 2014. Members of Twin Cities Ghostbusters produce fan-films called Ghostbustin’ 911. You can often find their Chevy Caprice or classic Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance outside the main hotel for CONvergence.

What Is Sweding?

In 2013, CONvergence’s programming included a “Movie Sweding and You” panel. Curious, Emmerlee and I showed up to cover the panel.

The simplest definition of a swede is a fan film. The term comes from the 2008 film Be Kind Rewind, but people were sweding long before that movie came out. Swedes can range from silly, low-budget versions of movie trailers to Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-for-shot remake by teenagers — although some would argue that the latter film is not a swede due to its length and serious approach.

The easiest way to grasp the meaning of a swede? Watch sweded films and trailers, of course! It might help to start with the trailer of Be Kind Rewind. (Of course there is a sweded trailer of that film, but in this case, it would be better to see the real trailer.)

You can find more sweded trailers on YouTube than any sane person would want to watch. Here’s a gem from 2013:

I’ll leave you with this swede of Die Hard, shot by the panelists on the first day of CONvergence 2012:

 

 

Are You a Purist When It Comes to Film Adaptations of Books?

[Warning: If you haven’t watched The Desolation of Smaug, there are spoilers in this post.]

I’m one of those people. When I was watching The Two Towers, I thought, “Hey! Frodo and Sam never went to Osgiliath!” (For the record, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies.) I understand when changes have to be made, such as leaving a beloved character like Tom Bombadil out of a movie in the interest of time, but I hate it when changes are made to make an already excellent book “more appealing.” So, of course, I had to attend the CONvergence panel called “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!”

I don’t have a mind for trivia. I’d hate to take some sort of test to prove I was a geek, because I’d probably fail. Did the hippogriff in the Harry Potter series have a name? Did it only appear in The Prisoner of Azkaban? I was tempted to look this up, but I’ll just leave myself wondering. I like to think my mind is full of things I need to use, like rules from the stylebook we use at work, so it doesn’t have room for things that are fun but not necessary.

Given that, you’d think I wouldn’t notice when movies vary from the book. In fact, with the Harry Potter series, I didn’t notice, because I’ve only read the series once – and since Rowling had creative control over the movies, they stuck pretty closely to the books anyway. But I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings four times now, so I have a good grasp of the books – though I still wouldn’t want to be quizzed on them. Besides, the Hobbit movies that have been released to date are so glaringly different from the book that I think I would notice many of their differences even if I’d read it only once.

Don’t get me wrong. While An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug don’t have my heart quite like Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, I still enjoyed them. The actors are good. The sets and costumes are amazing. In the second movie, the scene where Bilbo encounters Smaug was perfect. Although I like to joke about Kili and Thorin being “eye candy,” I really do like them. But so much of the second movie is so ridiculous that I’m already waiting for a new film version of The Hobbit.

Take Tauriel. I know, I know. She was introduced because there was a perceived need for a strong female character. I’m all for strong women. Read my previous post on Wonder Woman! But I loved the book even without a Tauriel. Most of the folks at the CONvergence panel really seemed to like her, so my daughter and I are probably in the minority, but we call her “Mary Sue.” She’s too perfect! And the dwarf-elf romance (not as popular with many panel attendees) seemed like unnecessary fluff. Is that meant to appeal to women? I really don’t believe my gender needs romance in every movie.

Many people in the panel did feel that all the “stuff” Jackson added (Azog the Defiler, the fight during the barrel scene, the “Hey! Let’s cover Smaug in molten gold” sequence) detracted from scenes that could have used more attention. Beorn made it into the movie, but Jackson didn’t let him shine. In my opinion, the bit in the book where Gandalf brings in the dwarves in small groups, so that Beorn will accept them all, is gold. It’s funny, and it tells us something important about Beorn’s character. The movie utterly did away with it!

I also dislike the unnecessary drama Jackson has inserted into both movies. All of the “stuff” I mentioned before: Azog, the barrel sequence (though I know many people love it), the attempt to encase Smaug in gold… none of it is necessary. The Hobbit is a wonderful book with plenty of excitement; it doesn’t need the added action, especially when the action is over-the-top – such as Thorin’s ride in the river of molten gold.

Unlike many of my fellow purists, however, I really like Radagast – bird-droppings and all.

I will loyally show up for the last movie of this trilogy. Come on – it’s The Hobbit! I have to see it on the big screen! But I’ll wait breathlessly for someone to take the book and do it right. Too bad that Martin Freeman probably will be too old for it by the time that happens. He was the perfect pick for Bilbo.

I welcome any purists to comment on what movies really bug them.

An Introvert Goes to CONvergence

Self-care is important for anyone who attends a large, busy con, especially as you get older. The standard advice to con newbies (besides “Shower!”) is to have at least one decent meal a day, try to get some sleep, and pace yourself rather attempting to do everything. If you’re an introvert, you also have to make sure you get enough time away from the crowds.

I love CONvergence, and I really do like people, but I’m very introverted. While I was working on this book last year, I talked with a lot of strangers throughout the weekend. Because I was so focused on capturing the con, I also found myself eating poorly at irregular times, and I didn’t get enough sleep. By Sunday morning, I was exhausted and emotional. I made it through the con, but it was rough.

This year, I had an easier schedule, but I still found myself getting tired and touchy toward the end of CONvergence. Part of this was because I was pushing myself to promote the book, but I also found myself alone a great deal of the time, because my husband had other commitments, or we wanted to do different things. I’m fine going to panels alone, but there were times I wanted to go to parties, and those were more difficult for me to handle by myself. The first night of the con, I installed myself in Bag End and had a fine time, but each day I felt a bit more overwhelmed at the thought of conversing with strangers. After a visit to the House of Toast on Saturday night — something that’s easy to do alone — I gave up trying to socialize and went to Cinema Rex to watch a movie.

Introverts vary in their tolerance of crowds and strangers. Some people would never even venture to the con; others would have far less trouble than I did. I think next year I might encourage a “safe” friend – someone with whom I feel quite comfortable – to join me at the con. I should concentrate on going to party rooms on the first night, when I’m most energetic, and then focus more on panels or movies on successive nights. I also need to get over telling myself that I spent too much money to spend the evening in our hotel room with a good book.

If I have any introverted readers, I welcome comments about how they deal with similar situations – whether at CONvergence or elsewhere.