Alabama Phoenix Festival 2014

Art by Carly Strickand

On Saturday, Bryan of Geek Notions and I traveled to Birmingham for the Alabama Phoenix Festival. This was an excellent con – just big enough to have a great variety of panels, guests, and vendors, but not so huge that it was overwhelming. Everyone I interacted with was laid back and enthusiastic about geeking out. I would love to attend this convention again next year, and maybe have an author table or cosplay. I think I’m going to add leveling up at cons to my writing goals for 2014.

My awesome con-partner, Bryan, has also written a con round up. You can check it out here.



Panels

How to Write YA
Panelists: Ciara Knight, Anne Riley, Jessica Hawke, J L Mulvihill, Ashley Chappell, Amy Leigh Strickland

This was the first panel I attended, and was my favorite of the entire con. The panelists were smart and funny and honest, and the audience asked great questions.

One of my favorite takeaways from this panel was a new way of looking at low ratings on Amazon. One panelist pointed out that having a variety of ratings shows that real people are reading your work, in addition to friends and family you may have asked to review your book. Another panelist pointed out that sometimes low ratings sell books – what one person may hate may be exactly what another person is looking for (i.e., sex scenes!).

It is always good to go to these panels, even if you are a seasoned writer who has heard most of the tips before. In my experience there is always one piece of advice that is new, and just being around other writers always fills up my energy reserves for my own writing.

But another good reason to go to these panels is to pick out which authors’ books you might be interested in. There were a ton of Indie authors at Alabama Phoenix Festival. I wanted to support one of those writers by buying his or her book, but I only had one day at the con (and just a small amount of time between panels) so attending a writing panel was a great way to help me figure out which writer’s work I might enjoy.

A.G. Porter spoke about the process of choosing a cover artist for her books and gave excellent information during the panel. When I found her table in the exhibitor’s room later in the day she had one of the best author tables I’ve ever seen. Professional and friendly, she’s the kind of author I hope to be one day when I begin publishing novels. I bought the first two books in her series and look forward to reading them.

My book bounty for the weekend

The Full Scale Millenium Falcon Project

The next panel was with the creators of the cockpit and console for the full scale Millenium Falcon project. This is a labor of love project, with people volunteering their time and money to make a screen accurate replica.

The panel was fun, with lots of questions from the audience and a bit of Star Wars trivia thrown in (where did Boba Fett first appear?). After the panel they encouraged everyone to check out the cockpit down in the exhibition hall.

It was pretty awesome.

The seriously cool cockpit and console

Curious Twi’lek and Bryan in Han’s seat

Find the Greeble! Where’s the battery pack?
Adam Savage signed the console!
Greg Dietrich spent some time pointing out greebles on the quad laser cannon, and another member of the crew showed us around the console, pointing out which buttons to press and explaining the construction process. 
The Millenium Falcon cockpit was kind of the convergence point for the whole con. While we were hanging out there we talked with people we’d met at Free Comic Book Day, and I ran into Stan from Kingdom Comics, the comic book store I used to visit when I lived in Birmingham. I hadn’t seen him in maybe eight years, but he recognized me and gave me a hug. The whole convention had that kind of vibe – a really laid back and fun geek hangout with friends you don’t get to see that often. 

Star Wars: The Coming Darkness
Film Screening, Q&A Afterwards with Director Josh Mason and Cast

This was my first time attending a fan film screening at a convention. Like the Millenium Falcon, the funding and manpower for this project all came from volunteers.

My biggest fear about watching a fan film was that it would be long and meandering, with pithy dialogue and a much too serious plot. But Mason’s film was fun, with a tight, action-oriented plot and only as much dialogue as was needed to move the movie forward.

There were some issues with the speakers, so the sound was a little too loud on the background noise and too soft on the dialogue at times. And as someone who grew up in Alabama it is hard to divorce myself from southern trees appearing on a distant planet. But those were minor issues, and all-around this was a great first fan film experience.

It was a welcome break in the middle of the day, where I could sit in a dark, mostly quiet room and eat a sandwich and not feel like I had to interact with anyone for a bit. I could recharge my introvert batteries so that I could interact more in the second half of the day. I think I will to try to work in a fan film on my schedule for future cons.


Director Josh Mason and Screenwriter Michael LoBianco
 answer questions after the screening
One of my favorite moments was the post-credits scene. Just as with author readings, humor and lightness work well in a group setting.

Mass Hysteria: Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary Panel

Alabama Ghostbusters joined comics artist Dan Schoening to discuss his art and general Ghostbusters awesomeness during this podcast/ panel for Mass Hysteria. They gave away two signed comic book collections during the panel, one to a young girl and the other to a man in a Ghostbusters jumpsuit. I’m going to start reading the Ghostbusters comics, and I need to play the video game as well.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction

At every con, there’s one panel that doesn’t quite come together. Panelists drop out at the last minute, it’s at the time of day in the con where everyone is tired, or the vibe is just a bit off for no explainable reason. I think one problem with this panel was its broad focus. It would have worked better to have one person giving a presentation on their writing in the style of Golden Age SF, or with a larger, more diverse panel. Instead of defining what is and isn’t considered Golden Age, it would have been nice to dive into Golden Age with a panelist as a guide and romp around there for a while.

Art

One of my favorite parts of any convention is finding new geek artists. I could spend a whole day just walking around the exhibition hall chatting with authors and artists and debating on whether to buy cool action figures. There were so many amazing artists at Phoenix Festival, so I didn’t have time to see them all, but here are a few of my favorites.

Carly Strickland

Carly designed the badge art for the convention, and had a table of children’s books for sale in the exhibition hall.

But what drew me to her table were these:

Star Trek, TOS alphabet cards. Oh. My. Goodness. These are beautiful, and I bought one of each letter she had for sale. You can buy your own here, and follow her tumblr as she adds new letters.

Bryan Crowson

Bryan was one of the kindest people we met at the con. And everyone at the con was extremely nice, so that’s saying something. He had lovely drawings of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz as babies, from the perspective of Wicked. There was also a non-flying monkey wearing an equality sweatshirt, and then there was this:

Wave Walker by Bryan Crowson

Dear Reader, do I need to describe how hard I fangirled? This is my biggest regret of the convention – not buying a print of Wave Walker. Luckily, Bryan has an online store and you can contact him via email to order prints or request commissions. Check out his Facebook page for an awesome engagement commission of a couple running away from Godzilla. And if you see him at a convention, stop by his table to hear the stories behind his art. He’s a wonderful guy.

Rick Johnson/ Phat Daddy Studios

Rick was full of love and energy when we stopped by his table. He does amazing comic book art, and what pulled us in was the sweetest Daryl sketch you’re ever likely to see, alongside a kickass Rick and Michonne.

Art by Rick Johnson

Check out Rick’s Facebook page for more amazing art, including a pretty sweet Drogo from Game of Thrones.

Geek It Forward
There’s always a sense of sadness at the end of a con. You have to go back to the real world where you (perhaps) cannot wear your Batman t-shirt to work and no one gets your references.

So it was awesome to stop by the Geek Gathering table and hang out for a bit. We bought t-shirts and got free admission tickets to the convention in September. A portion of the proceeds go to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Ultimate win!

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