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Friday, September 11, 2009

The First North American Discworld Convention 2009

I first learned of this convention in the Spring of 2008. When I realized that it would coincide with the end of my Masters' Program it was clear that I just had to make the trip to Arizona to be part of this event.

Day Zero - Thursday, 3rd September

The convention officially started on Friday, September 4th, however, I decided to arrive a day early to get settled in a bit first. Before checking in I wondered where to stow my Rincewind hat and then decided to put it in my carry-on luggage together with my robes. Somehow, this was the first flight that I didn't worry about my luggage not arriving and then of course Murphy had to strike. I dutifully waited in Phoenix at the baggage belt, but my backpack just didn't turn up. So off I went to the claims deck, where the nice woman told me that my bag wasn't in their system, i.e. it hadn't been scanned anywhere! After a while I got a piece of paper and a vague promise that most bags would turn up within 24 hours.

So I made my way to the hotel, where I realized that all the accessories to my costume (clasp, belt, bags) as well as my swimming trunks and all my clothes were in the missing bag. What else to do but take a bus and make a trip to the local mall. After a lot of browsing I got the necessities (some clean underwear, swimming trunks, a couple of t-shirts, a belt and something to close my wizard robes).

Thursday evening featured a first event, a pub quiz where attendees and guests could mingle and get acquainted. Even though I was absolute rubbish at the quiz, I maybe contributed one or two answers at our table we had lots of fun and I got to know a fair number of cool people.

Rincewind and Ridcully

Day One - Friday, 4th September

The Convention officially started with the opening ceremony at 1pm. Esther Friesner, an author and one of the guests, appearing as Miss Egaltine, a Seamstress and Lady of Etiquette, gave a brilliantly funny speech and introduced us to all the guests. Finally Sir Terry Pratchett was led into the room, escorted by the Seamstresses which carried a giant turtle over his head!

Since my designated signing session with Terry Pratchett was on the same day, I soon retired to the Emporium, the Dealer's Room, to acquire two books by our favorite author; after all I had to leave all my books in Switzerland. To my big delight I was able to find a book club edition with the original Color of Magic cover, a first edition of Truckers and a first edition of the comic to Mort. (One of these books I handed to my roommate, since there was a two book signing limit)

With my book deficiency problem solved I went to an event called "Borne to Pune", in which a panel of guests tried to make puns to Discworld themes. Participants were allowed to donate some money to the selected charities and throw squishy things at those panelists making the best/worst puns. It was all-around a hilarious affair with the audience readily participating with their own puns.

I was at the head of the line and Terry took his time to chat with the people in line. When I turned up in my Rincewind garb, he divined that I was a Wizard, which pleased me extremely ;).

With the signatures in my pocket I hurried to the next event. The Igorlympics, a contest in which potential Igors could prove their proficiency in essential tasks such as Eyeball Rolling, after all they have to be kept fresh, Limping (whilst balancing an Eyeball on a cup), Lisping and Pinning the Knob on the Wizard's staff. It was all great fun. I came in third in the Eyeball Rolling competition and won a back scratcher which we also used to roll the Eyeballs. All Igors also received an original prop-tooth from the Hogfather movie set!

The big event of the evening was the Seamstresses Party with Terry Pratchett as guest of honor. To help us getting to know each other we were asked to participate in a Scavenger Hunt where we had to find people in the room which fitted certain criteria. It took me a while but I finally managed to complete my list after running into, not away from for a change, many interesting people. During the best costume awards, which were presented by Sir Terry it came to a Scandal. First Terry downed a whole glass of the Bursar's Frog Pills, then tangoed with Nanny Ogg, before fleeing back-stage with her. After a while quiet reasserted itself. Terry returned to present the rest of the awards, which went to a stunning Cherry Littlebottom in a ball gown dress, the Luggage and Young Greebo.

Holy Wood Squares, a Tic-Tac-Toe like Quiz where two contestants tried to guess if their Honored Guests / Squares gave the correct answer to a trivia question, marked the end of a fantastic first day.

The Wizards

Day Two - Saturday, 5th September

Having recently bought "Witch Way to the Mall", a short story anthology edited by Esther Friesner, I lined up to get it signed by the lady herself.

Another signature in my pocket I made my way to join the Fireside Chat with Bernard Pierson, the Cunning Artificer who created thousands of memorable Discworld articles. Bernard has a captivating personality and manages to tell fascinating anecdotes and so the allocated hour went over way too quickly.

Without a break I returned to the Unseen University (aka Main Room) to witness an enlightening talk about Discworld cover art through time. The analysis and discussion of the various artists of the American covers were especially interesting because everyone keeps complaining about them ;).

Then came one of the highlights of the convention: A one-hour discussion with Terry Pratchett in which he answered the most pressing questions of fans. I could have listened to him for hours upon hours; he had so many interesting stories to tell.

The next session was also highly anticipated, a reading from Terry's upcoming book Unseen Academicals. Since Terry's eyesight is one of the things most affected by his case of Alzheimer's, the reading was actually performed by Rob, Terry's assistant. However, Terry was at his side and added many interesting facts. The passages we could listen to were fantastic and I can't wait to get a hand on the book on October, 6th. One fan couldn't wait and paid 1,250 US$ to get his hands on the Uncorrected Proof of the manuscript from which Rob had read.

One of the highlights of the convention for many participants was the Maskerade, in which people could show of their costumes as well as present short sketches. One of the most memorable ones was a Cricket-like commentary to an on-stage Terry starting to write his newest novel. It was amazing to what level of detail some costumes of the participants went.

The evening ended with a rendition of four songs from the Discworld Rocky Horror Picture Show, which, even tough I didn't know the original, entertained me a lot.

Ptraccia with her Pygmy-Camel and Translator Imp

Day Three - Sunday, 6th September

This day started with an interesting discussion about how Terry is published in the UK and the US both as an author of adult fiction and Children's literature. Terry was present at this discussion and actually contributed most of the talking, much to the pleasure of the audience.

I then went over to a panel featuring ordinary people who had the chance to participate as Extras in the making of Color of Magic and/or Going Postal. This was very enlightening and accompanied by a fair amount of pictures taken at the set.

The next panel I selected was very popular indeed. Titled "Yeth, Marther", it featured Rob, Terry's assistant, and his story about how he got to meet first U2 and then Terry Pratchett and how it was to work for those aforementioned parties. This session was one of my personal favorites as it gave me a view of the people supporting Terry in his ever increasing public demand.

Next on the program was the big Charity auction. Since I had set my eyes on a couple of Signed Uncorrected Proofs by Sir Terry I decided to participate. Over the duration of the auction I had to learn that there were people present with very deep pockets. And so another Uncorrected Proof of Unseen Academicals was auctioned off for 1,600$, two signed first editions of Once More with Footnotes went for 1,200$ and several other uncorrected proofs went for 150 to 300$. In between I managed to snag a copy of Dark are the Woods by Richard Laymon for 22$. However, this was not such a rare item and thus my craving for an exclusive book was not yet stilled. Having lost many auctions so far, I spotted an item which instantly won my heart, a first edition of Good Omens signed by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Deciding to make this my graduation present, I didn't back down when the price went up and finally was the only remaining bidder. For 650$ I could take home one of the best books by two of my favorite authors. Pat Harkins did an excellent job hosting the auction, interweaving many interesting anecdotes and in general keeping the atmosphere light. The last item to be auctioned off was a leaf on which Terry sat the evening before, which came with a certificate of Authenticity created by The Cunning Artificer, this item also managed to raise a couple of hundred bucks. At the end of the auction 23,000$ had been raised which would be shared by the Orang Utan Foundation and the Alzheimer Trust.

Near the end of the auction I sneaked out to get two more signatures in the aforementioned short story collection; this time by Dan and Sarah Hoyt.

After paying for and receiving my auction items, I had to take a short break and returned to my hotel, safely storing the books in my bags.

The main event of the evening was "A Night at the Roxie", the gala banquet. We received splendid food, an intriguing belly-dance performance also featuring Nobby Nobs alias "Betty" and a chance to meet many new people. Fortunately, our table was one of the first allowed to dine at the buffet, which was rather ill supplied and as I heard ran out of stock before the last table could satisfy their curiosity by trying all delicacies.

The Quirm College for Young Ladies Cotillion introduced us to Regency Dances. The first of which, Hole in the Wall, I was already familiar with from my dancing in Switzerland. All in all this was a nice closing event for the evening, even though most participants were getting a tad too tired to learn a Regency Waltz.

A belly-dancer and "Betty"

Day Four - Monday, 7th September

"Time is flying when you have fun", this was also true this time and it was hard to believe that the last day of the First North American Discworld Convention had already arrived.

The first panel I watched on this last day was entitled "Fantastically Funny" and discussed what exactly made Fantasy inherently funny and how humour worked. This was a very intriguing discussion which also touched upon Black Adder and Monthy Python.

Next was a Special Pratchett Movie Showing in the Unseen University. It turned out to be the teaser trailer of Going Postal followed by the two-part BBC documentary "Living with Alzheimer's" about Terry's first year after the disease was diagnosed. This was a welcome surprise to me, since I hadn't seen this documentary before and managed to miss all the other showings of this.

And then it was already time for the Closing Ceremony in which many heartfelt thanks were mentioned and another impromptu auction was held to "get rid off" some of the decoration articles such as the banners. Terry's mention that he would be back at a future North American Discworld Convention was well received by the audience and it lessened the pain many felt that it was already over.

The Tail of the Turtle Party was a relaxing chilling out and saying goodbye to the many people we have met so far.

With two of my three roommates I then made a detour to Fat Tuesday's where we tried their alcoholic slushees, a cultural experience so to speak ;).

Terry leaving the Convention

Post Scriptum One - A Note on Costumes

I myself attended all five days of the convention as Rincewind and I was pleased by the many positive feedback I received. Some people didn't believe my hair was real because it just fitted too perfectly with their image of Rincewind ;)

But I wasn't the only one who made the efforts to dress up and I would like to highlight a couple of my favorite costumes.

One fellow made an appearance as Ronnie Soaks, the Milkman better known as the Fifth Rider of the Apocalypse. He portrayed this minor character in the series with so much eye for detail (he even had milk bottles with the correct bottle caps) and authority that he earned my deepest respect.

Also great were the two tourists who made fantastic reproductions of the Iconograph, including a painting imp, and even created a moving luggage!

Another eye-catcher was the young lady dressed up as the young Seamstress Rosie Palm. Her nice dress was completed with a knitting basket.

Ridcully and the Bursar recreated these characters with lots of attention to detail. Ridcully carried a Burleigh and Stronginthearm Crossbow and the Bursar had his own supply of Dried Frog Pills.

Ptraccia with her stunning dress and fantastic creation of a travelling basket including a pygmy camel and translating imp also inspired my awe.

There were many more great costumes, too many to mention them all here.

Rincewind and Ronnie Soaks

Post Scriptum Two - A Note on Harga's House of Ribs', the Hospitality Suite

Harga's House of Ribs' was a rock in the storm of the Discworld Convention. A person in need could always find something to eat and drink there. They not only provided snacks for in between but also breakfast and warm dinners! For their effortless efforts the staff of Harga's House of Ribs' deserves a thundering applause and standing ovation. It was also a great place to meet people and strike up interesting discussions.

Post Scriptum Three - Terry Pratchett in Glendale, AZ - Tuesday, 8th September

The day after the convention Terry made a public appearance near a library in Glendale Arizona. Having some spare time on my hands and unsure whether Terry would ever show up again in Switzerland, I did my best to be there. Luck was on my side and the rental car, which I reserved for 10am, was ready at 8am and so I go there in time. Of course I was out of books again, but fortunately there was a small consignment of books for sale and so I could increase my collection by two.

Contrary to my expectation Terry did not dwell on his upcoming novel Unseen Academicals, but rather only gave a short introduction and then opened the floor to questions. What followed was an amazing ninety minutes in which Terry talked about his experiences as a public relations officer at a nuclear power plant, his views on God and Humanity, the likelihood of another collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Assisted Suicide, how he came to write the Johnny Maxwell series and much more.

This event was thoroughly enjoyable and it was a perfect (even though unofficial) end to the North American Discworld Convention.

Terry in Glendale

More pictures can be found in my webalbum.

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  • Did you ever get your luggage? I guess that is the problem when it has no legs and is not made out of sapient pearwood,

    By Blogger samrah, at 3:52 PM  

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences. There were so many fun things going on it was hard to go to everything- nice to know what happened at some of the events I missed.

    By Blogger Kathryn, at 5:40 PM  

  • That's a nice picture of Ptraccia, and who's that charming young damzel in the blue scarf?

    By Anonymous Discworld Dave, at 9:24 PM  

  • I saw by your pictures you did manage to find Montazuma's Well. I hope you had a good time on the rest of your trip! - Nonny

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:27 AM  

  • @Samrah: My luggage was actually waiting for me at the hotel that very night. I was extremely surprised by that. And very relieved as well, of course :)

    By Blogger David, at 12:37 AM  

  • It was a pleasure sharing a table with you at the Rhoxie! Thanks for sharing. From the redhead with the knitted Grim Squeaker.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:11 PM  

  • David,

    Thanks for the compliment (I was Ronnie).

    I was commenting to other Con-goers that your appearance & costume was spot on for that of Rincewind.

    - Fred

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:37 PM  

  • Excellent summary! On our first day, you were kind enough to tell us how to get from the con hotel to the standby hotel. We enjoyed chatting with you.

    Loved your costume! IMO it was the best wizard costume at the con.

    By Blogger Ita, at 9:06 PM  

  • Best Wizard costume by far and as you say the hair was perfect.

    Hope you can make it over to the UK con or a Wincanton event. Do you know about those.

    Check out
    This is Bernard's site's message board and a whole bunch of the Brits who were in Phoenix post regularly there.
    Kris (i was one of the Thieves Guild people)

    By Blogger rentawitch, at 10:03 AM  

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