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North American Discworld Convention -- September 4-7, 2009, Phoenix, AZ. by Cathy Green
Review by Cathy Green
SFRevu.com  
Date: September 2009

Links: NAD Home Page / Show Official Info /

The first North American Discworld Convention, honoring Sir Terry Pratchett and celebrating all things Discworld, was held in Tempe, Arizona September 4-7, 2009 (Labor Day weekend).

Even prior to convention, it was already getting high marks from me for the level of information on the website. In addition to information about various aspects of the con and pictures of the various guests, there was a decent amount of information about the hotel and non-convention tourist activities one could enjoy in Phoenix and Tempe. The con-runners also sent out a couple of e-newsletters prior to the con to keep members up to date. So kudos to webmaster Emily Whitten.

Arrival, Area sites, and Registration:
The main convention hotel, the Tempe Mission Palms filled quickly, so by the time I decided to attend, I ended up having to book a room in the overflow hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott approximately four blocks away from the convention hotel. The con-runners arranged for a free shuttle between the Marriott and the Mission Palms. However, Downtown Tempe turned out to be very pedestrian friendly, so I walked from the Courtyard Marriott to the Tempe Mission Palms. Rather than making use of the shuttle. I did notice other con-goers making use of it, and for those not as mobile as me, I'm sure the free shuttle was a welcome amenity. While I was a little disappointed not to be at the main convention hotel, the Marriott is a nice enough hotel, the room came with free high speed internet and a minifridge, and the front desk staff were very friendly and helpful (the directions they gave me for the drive to the airport were much better than MapQuest's).

I arrived the day before the convention and spent the afternoon at the Heard Museum. I arrived just in time for the 3pm tour. The tour of the main exhibit covered most of the southwestern tribes. The museum has an amazing kachina collection. It's always nice when a convention is someplace that has attractions other than the con that are relatively easy to get to. In fact, if I'd been more familiar with the light rail system, I might not have rented a car at all, since there was a free shuttle to the hotel and the Mission Palms was right next to a light rail station. On the other hand, there's really no easy way to get to the Desert Botanic Garden without a car, and it was a must-see on my list of things to do while in Phoenix and Tempe.

After getting back from the Heard Museum, I went to the Mission Palms to see if I could pick up my registration packet ahead of time, and the registration desk was already fully staffed, so I quickly had my goodie bag, which was full of excellent con freebies such as a water bottle (very handy in the Arizona heat; I made good use of it when I went to the Desert Botanic Garden) with the con logo, one of 13 very attractive pins with Discworld characters designed by the concomm's artist (I got DEATH), and a convention pen. Because the con-runners were aware that a significant number of people were arriving before the official start of the convention, they put together a small amount of programming on Thursday evening, including showing the Hogfather miniseries, and a pre-convention mixer and pub quiz, which had a cash bar and some nice snacks. The con suite also had a really good spread, including excellent brownies and was staffed by very friendly people. In fact, I ended up staying at the con suite (called Harga's House of Ribs) about an hour and half longer than I had intended because I got caught up in interesting conversations.

Con Suite:
One really generous thing the convention did was to have real, substantial food in Harga's House of Ribs (the con suite) at meal times in addition to the usual snacks, so it was possible to eat all one's meals in the con suite and eat well. Over the course of the con I consumed, among other things, brats, bagels, cheese danish, fried chicken, cold cuts, potato salad, kosher hot dogs, pie, cheesecake, and sun tea. They also had numerous sugar-free items as well. And the con suite was on the second floor of the hotel and opened onto a deck, which was particularly pleasant to hang out on in the evening when the temperature had dropped a bit. Hospitality Chair Wendy Philpott and the rest of the con suite crew are to be congratulated for a job well done.

Opening Ceremonies:
The opening ceremonies were emceed by Esther Friesner (in seamstress persona) and therefore very funny. There were a lot of double entendres which were so obvious they might as well have been single entendres. Sir Terry was brought in to take his throne upon the stage escorted under an inflatable turtle by his own Monstrous regiment of corseted seamstresses. The ceremonies included some amusing bits of play acting explaining how not to act around the various writer and publisher guests (i.e. do not cling to them like a barnacle while attempting foist your 800 page handwritten manuscript on them, especially not in the bathroom). The con also conceived of a fun way to indicate when Pterry was available to guests and when he should be left alone: he had two name tags Terry Pratchett and Silas T. Firefly and when wearing the latter, that was a sign that he should be left alone. Sir Terry also spoke at length during the opening ceremonies and was his usual amusing self.

Autographing:
The convention planned ahead and had a good system for handling the autographing. There were 900 convention attendees. There were three autographing sessions (one each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and one third of the con-goers were assigned to each session. Every con-goer received a ticket (made to look like Discworld-style money, and designed by staff artist John Lemerond) indicating to which session he or she had been assigned. I got Friday, the first session. The con also had a designated slot on the convention schedule for meeting with fellow attendees to trade tickets if the session you were assigned was not to your liking. When attending the autographing session, which naturally took place in the main ballroom, we lined up outside the room and were given a number (I was #89) and then allowed to file into the ballroom, aka Unseen University, and sit down. People were supposed to go up to the table at which Pterry was sitting ten at a time and have their books open to where they wanted them signed. Pratchett was doing just signatures, not personalizations (a concession to his health I believe), although a number of personalized signatures were offered up as auction items at the charity auction. The handing out of numbers at each session was helpful, since people with a high number could wander off to another program item or the dealers room (the Emporium) or the film program (moving pictures in the Cthinema) and come back without worrying about missing out on getting their books signed.

Dealers' Room:
NADW Con had a decent sized dealers room with a good variety of merchandise including Pratchett books (naturally) in both US and UK editions (and the new UK black covers are certainly striking), DVDs of the various TV film adaptations of his books, jewelry, other books both new and used, and etched flasks and glassware items. The dealers room was also where all non-Pratchett autographing took place. One of the highlights of the dealers room was The Cunning Artificer, Bernard Pearson, who creates the gorgeous Discworld stamps.

Parties:
In the evening, I went to the Seamstress Guild reception/party which had really good food (poached salmon) and met some very nice people. A lot a folks were in Discworld costumes. There was a guy who had a really great Death of Rats costume. There was a woman making paper flowers and a photographer. The photos were free for those who wanted pictures because Terry Pratchett had paid for the photographer for the evening, which was a really cool thing to do.

After the Seamstress Guild function segued into the Holy Wood Squares game, I wandered off to the Loscon party. They had a really good spread and I had a nice chat with some locals and some folks from LA. The convention had one designated party suite, and during the rest of the convention the parties were hosted by various Arizona SF groups such as DarkCon.

Art of Discworld:
Saturday I went to the big presentation on the Art of Discworld. It was a really good, interesting presentation. I had no idea that so many artists had done Discworld covers and John Lemorond, who was giving the presentation, had actually managed to get quotes from a lot of the artists and descriptions of how the paintings had come about and a number of them sent him pdfs of the original art or pictures of the models to use in the presentation. In fact, the presentation was so engrossing that I forgot to take notes, otherwise this part of my report would have significantly more detail. Guest of Honor Interview:
The Guest of Honor interview with Terry's U.S. editor interviewing him directly followed the art presentation. I was lucky and had a front row seat, having parked myself thereto make sure I had a good view of the slideshow during the previous presentation. The interview consisted mainly of questions people had e-mailed in ahead of time via the con website (another really good idea on the concomm's part), although Terry did digress somewhat on a number of the questions, but always in an interesting and amusing way. I think it must have been somewhat difficult for Jennifer Brehl, Terry's U.S. Editor for his adult books, to conduct the interview and make sure that all the questions got answered, since Terry strikes me as someone who would be difficult to moderate (not in a bad way, just that he has a lot to say and makes sure he gets to say it).

Masquerade:
Saturday night the big event was the Masquerade. There were a decent number of entries, quite a few of which were in the novice class. One of the things I've tried to do when watching a masquerade is think about the costumes from the construction viewpoint, rather than just how fancy they look. For instance, the winners had dressed up as Vimes and Sybil changing from regular clothes to fancy outfits to sit for their portrait. The costumes were not particularly fantastical, but would have taken quite a bit of effort to sew from scratch. (I can't even shorten a pair of pants without sewing them to whatever I'm wearing, and I've never mastered invisible stitching. I am, however, a master of the visible stitch.) The convention had also set up Hwel's House as the costumer's dungeon for those who needed assistance or last minute repairs.

Programming:
Sunday morning I went to the "Publishing Pterry" panel. Terry's American editors Jennifer Brehl and Anne Hoppe were on the panel along with Terry's first publisher now agent Colin Smythe. Terry was also on the panel and pretty much took it over. While it would have been nice to hear more from his editors, listening to Terry talk for an hour was certainly fun.

A highlight of the convention for me was the video presentation about the Johnny Maxwell musical and album. The composer, Leighton James House, had given permission for the con to show a video of the workshop rehearsal and had also prepared a special introduction for the program item just for the convention, which was pretty cool.

I cheaped out and did not spend the extra $70 for the Sunday night banquet (in retrospect may I should have splurged, since when I met up in the bar afterwards with a number of folks including some of the con guests, they had clearly had a really good time at the banquet), so for dinner I once again went to the con suite, which had really good fried chicken and lots of pies and cake for desert. I ended up having a slice of both cheesecake and apple pie. I very much appreciated the fact that the convention supplied a good meal for those of us not attending the banquet. Charity Auction:
The major daytime programming item on Sunday was the charity auction at 1pm. The auction ran well past the two hours allotted, so I missed most of the afternoon programming (and hadn't been able to sign up for any of the kaffeklatsches anyway). The auctioneers were very funny, and a lot of the items were impressive. There were a couple copies of Once More with Footnotes auctioned off, plus a number of the British uncorrected proofs (a lot fewer proofs for review are sent out by UK publishers than US publishers), a couple portfolios of Kidby Discworld art, and a number of Discworld stamps proof sheets. The bidding was kind of scary. People were dropping astronomically huge amounts of money on the various items. The auction ended up raising over $23,000 for the two designated charities (The Alzheimer's Research Trust and Orangutan Foundation International).

Video & Media:
On Monday, the last day of the con, I spent the morning in the video room watching "Tourists Guide to Ankh Morpork" and "12 days of Hogswatch," also known as extras on the Colour of Magic and Hogfather DVDs. In the main ballroom, prior to the closing ceremonies, they showed the 2 part BBC documentary "Terry Pratchett - Living With Alzheimer's" plus a special preview trailer for Going Postal.

The documentary was surprisingly lighthearted given the subject matter, and Terry was quite candid about what he could and could not do anymore. There was one really sad bit where he was unable to finish a reading at the UK Discworld con because he had temporarily lost the ability to read the next line after the one he was reading.

Closing Ceremonies:
The closing ceremonies were amusing and involved a small auction, in which the guild banners decorating the main ballroom were auctioned off, adding additional money to the amount raised at the auction the day before (I believe the total was over $25,000). An amusing item in the secondary auction was Diane Duane's hair clippings. As she explained (and I believe the item came with an explanatory tag), after she and husband Peter Morewood spent 27 hours on a plane getting to Tempe, she went out to get her hair cut and ran into Terry in the elevator. After she told him where she was going, he told her that she should save the clippings for the auction, more or less daring her to do so. So when she got her hair cut, she asked the hairdresser to sweep up the clippings for her, and the woman gave her a funny look and asked "sorry are you somebody?" meaning someone famous enough that the hairdresser should know who she was. Absolutely mortified, Diane Duane said "no", took the hair, paid for the haircut and ran out before things could get even more embarrassing. The hair was sold for a rather large amount of money.

Summary:
I had a great time at NADWCon, and if they have another one, I'm definitely going. The only downside for me was the one I have at every con, which is that since I am incapable of bilocation, I was unable to get to everything I wanted to. For instance, I missed both Diane Duane and Esther Friesner's readings. Also, because there were only a small number of slots for each kaffeklatsch, I was unable to sign up for any of them before they filled up. However, the con did make sure that pretty much every major guest did a kaffeeklatsch, so people had the opportunity to meet in a small group with Colin Smythe, Terry's agent; Jennifer Brehl and Anne Hoppe, his U.S. Adult and YA editors; Esther Friesner; Diane Duane; Peter Morewood; Bernard Pearson; and Rob Wilkins, Terry's personal assistant. The con also had panels on a diverse number of topics such as myth in the Discworld, publishing, the science of Discworld, and YA fiction. There was also an art workshop, a writer's seminar, an embroidery workshop ad a Thieves' Guild Master Class. There was also a gaming room, called Dunmanifestin, a demo of the Thud! Board game and a film room showing Hogfather, Soul Music, Wyrd Sisters, The Colour of Magic, "A Tourist's Guide to Ankh-Morpork", "12 Days of Hogswatch", and Living With Alzheimer's. Also, there was a daily chat with a member of the concomm, which allowed the conrunners to, if at all possible, address complaints and fix problems during the con, rather than just having a gripe session afterwards, which was a nice innovation.

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