Snapshots from SoonerCon 26

I always plan to do better with my social media at sf conventions than I do. I get involved, and forget to tweet or upload Facebook photo albums. So I thought, “Why not make a blog post from a collection of things I should have posted from SoonerCon 26?”

Wait. What’s SoonerCon 26, you ask? It’s a science fiction convention held in Midwest City, Oklahoma (metro Oklahoma City), that brings together some of the best aspects of literary, media, gaming, comic, and costuming conventions. 

This year’s edition began Thursday, June 22 with a Writers’ Workshop, headed by Workshop Clinician Jody Lynn Nye, and ran through Sunday, June 25, 2017.

Since it is such a multi-focus convention, their theme this year was a nod to a three-ring circus, “Welcome to the Show!” Toastmaster–er, Ringmaster Selina Rosen did full justice to this theme in her Opening Ceremonies performance.

L-R: Jody Lynn NyeLarry NemecekSelina Rosen in Ringmaster garb, Matt Frank, and Todd Haberkorn, at Opening Ceremonies.

As ever, my first stop upon arrival (well, after checking into the hotel and Convention Registration) was the Art Show. It had a larger area this year than in recent past years, but still seemed cramped to me, and the straight-down-from-above lighting was not terribly illuminating for fantasy paper sculptures in shadowboxes or deep mats (too much shadow, not enough art visible). There was a lot of wonderful art on display, however, and despite the crowding it was well worth the look.

Art Guest of Honor Peri Charlifu brought a large and imaginative collection of gorgeous ceramics and prints. Featured Guest Mitchell Bentley also brought a wonderful, colorful display of his astronomical and illustration work, and other attending artists brought a nice variety of interesting work.

My art display at SoonerCon 26

Other highlights of the Art Show for me included a large, new painting in Angela Lowry’s display, two new paintings by Dell Harris, and a lovely display by Hazel Conley. Perennial favorites Sarah ClemensJim Humble, and many others also mailed in artwork to the show, to expand the selection brought by attending artists.

Some of the most magnificent artwork this weekend was wearable, however–remember, one of SoonerCon’s strong areas is costuming. Here’s just a small sampling of the wearable art walking around the Reed Center this weekend.

SoonerCon 26 offered up a nice collection of interesting and thought-provoking panels for attendees of varied interests. These touched on podcasting, comics, film, writing, art, and media (specific discussions geared to fans of individual shows or franchises, including Star TrekStar WarsDr. WhoHarry Potter, and a wide range of others).

The witty committee behind the “Worst Novel Ever,” L-R, seated: Phillip Drayer DuncanVickey Malone Kennedy, Craig WolfTyrell Gephardt, and KC-area fan James Murray. Behind them, standing: Larry Nemecek, facilitator (with microphone) and the unflaggingly-gracious Leonard Bishop.

A pair of wildly funny “SoonerCon @ Midnight” panels assembled a committee of quick-thinking wits and writers (including my son Tyrell Gephardt) to develop the “Worst Novel Ever” (held in the bar, where else?). The next day, a group of equally talented quick-draw artists conspired to create the “Worst Cover Ever” for it. In between gasps of laughter, I could only conclude that convention chairman Leonard Bishop is the “Best Sport Ever.”

Probably my most gratifying moment this weekend was when the couple came up to me after my reading and asked, “Where can we buy your book?” I urged them to watch this blog for further updates, and I’ve been smiling ever since. I hope to have actual news about that very soon!

Literary Guest of Honor Timothy Zahn shared thoughts about his SoonerCon experience at Closing Ceremonies. To his right (our left) Artist Guest of Honor Peri Charlifu, and on the other side Writers Workshop Clinician Jody Lynn Nye attend to his comments.

Most of my panels dealt, not surprisingly, with writing, art, or some combination of the two. Using your creativity for Fun and Profit (focusing on best practices for creative small entrepreneurial businesses) and Imaginary Creatures: Essential to Fantasy? (with panelists from both art and writing backgrounds) definitely touched on both of my art forms.


Ethics and Art focused pretty exclusively on visual-art intellectual property, and the protection of both the creator’s and others’ rights.


Failing Better shone a spotlight on the rejection-fraught lives of writers, and how to deal with setbacks in a way that leaves one (a) not suicidal and (b) better equipped, going forward.

By far the best-attended of my panels, however, was the one titled A Girl is . . . about persistent gender issues, both outside of fandom and within. It quickly became apparent that not all “within fandom” groups are the same, when it comes to views on gender equality. Experiences of younger women–particularly some of those in the online gaming community–reveal we’ve come less far than we’d like to think.

All of these panel discussions struck me as worthy of possible future exploration in blog posts. If you’d like to see one or more, please leave a comment about it.

All too quickly, SoonerCon 26 came to an end. Time to strike the photo-background sets, fold up the tabletop games, and pack the costumes or new T-shirts into suitcases. But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’m looking forward to coming back next year, if all goes as planned.

IMAGES: The green header-banner is from SoonerCon’s website. The other photos are my own snapshots, taken by me at SoonerCon 26 (they may be reposted online with an attribution of Jan S. Gephardt as the photographer, and a link back to this post). 

Tales of ConQuesT (48)–The Writing Part

I love  participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions–and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48 held this and every year in Kansas City on Memorial Day by my home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society


I participated in several panel discussions at ConQuesT. In addition to sharing an hour of reading with Sean Demory of Pine Float Press, my other scheduled panels all could be potential subjects for future blog posts. Please comment below, if you’d like to see more on any of these topics!

What Gives Characters Depth?

This panel focused on writing techniques, plus a review of “3-D characters we love” and why we chose them. It was ably moderated by Rob Howell. I was joined on the panel by P. R. AdamsLynette M. Burrows, and Marguerite Reed.

L-R: P. R. Adams, Lynette M. Burrows, Marguerite Reed, and moderator Rob Howell

Our discussion ranged through such questions as what makes a character come to life, our assorted techniques for “getting to know” our characters, and what happens when the scene you thought you were going to write takes a right-angle turn because “the character had something else in mind”/you realized it wouldn’t be in character for the person to do/say/think what you’d originally intended. It was a fun and lively discussion.

Intellectual Property and Literary Estates

I got to moderate this panel (former teacher: I like to make sure the discussions are fueled by lots of good, well-researched, leading questions, that everyone gets a chance to talk, and that the audience is actively engaged in shaping the conversation). I’d signed up to be on the panel because of my connection with the administration of my late brother-in-law’s literary estate.

My fellow panelists were Dora Furlong, who’d been involved in establishing a foundation to administer the literary estate of a writer and game-creator; Susan R. Matthews, who’d gone through the process of writing a will and discovered that there were all sorts of decisions to be made about who would administer her literary estate; and Craig R. Smith, whose focus was more on contracts and protecting intellectual property.

L-R: Susan R. Matthews‘ icon; Dora Furlong; Craig R. Smith‘s book cover.

We discussed the nature of intellectual property, the relative importance of registering ISBNs and copyrights, what is included in a literary estate, the kinds of decisions the executor or trustees of such an estate may have to make, leaving specific instructions (for instance, about what to do with emails and unfinished manuscripts), and many other issues that most writers, artists, or other creative people rarely consider–but which have everything to do with their legacy.

Writing Fight and Combat Scenes

I moderated this panel, too–but I did little talking about my own work on this one. Both of my fellow panelists, Rob Howell and Selina Rosen, are well-spoken, engaging, and knowledgeable, with a depth of background I could admire, but not match (SCA battle-experience, military history studies, martial arts training, and many more varied writing projects than I’ve racked up so far).

L-R: Rob Howell, a photo of an SCA battle by Ron Lutz; and Selina Rosen. Yes, it was a lively panel discussion.

It was a privilege to manage time and audience input, while offering them questions about varieties of research, frequent plot objectives of most fight or combat scenes, tips for keeping the action vivid and interesting, and pet peeves about other authors’ bad practices. Rob, Selina, and the knowledgeable audience kept the panel fast-paced, interesting, and wide-ranging.

Horror Fiction and Xenophobia

Yes, I did moderate this panel also–but as with the “Fight and Combat” panel, I ended up mainly facilitating the experts, namely Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmeyer, and Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not much of a horror writer or reader myself, I approached this panel from the viewpoint of a multiculturalist who generally looks upon xenophobia (fear of foreigners or, more basically, fear of “the other”) as a negative thing.

L-R: Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmyer, and the Facebook Profile Picture of Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not to worry. While earlier traditions of horror have embraced the “fear of otherness” via unfamiliar cultural practices, deformity, and/or disease to create the objects of fear, my three fellow panelists are contemporary horror writers who have embraced the “feared other” as their protagonists.

This brought new poignancy to their responses to my questions about “who are the monsters of today?” and which is the most potent bogeyman of today, the terrorist (domestic or foreign), the corporate overlord, the hacker, or the community dedicated to conformity? Reactions were mixed, but ultimately conformity won as the most stifling on the individual level.

I See No Way That Could Possibly Go Wrong

This panel focused on new technologies just beginning to emerge today, and our thoughts about their ramifications in the future. The panelists were, L-R in the photo below, Christine Taylor-Butler, Bryn Donovan, me, and Robin Wayne Bailey. The photographer (and knowledgeable contributor from the audience) is the writer J.R. Boles.

I was not originally scheduled to be on this one, but the designated moderator (who shall go nameless) did not show up for the panel. Bryn and Robin invited me to join them and moderate. Since I actually knew a bit about the topic (thanks largely to researching and writing this blog), I was delighted to leap in.

We had a great discussion, with a lot of intelligent input from the panelists and our knowledgeable audience. We spent most of our time on the question, “What technology that’s now in its infancy would you most like to see developed, and how do you think it would change things as we know them?”

Answers touched on flying cars, 3-D printed kidneys, earpieces or brain implants to transmit data, lunar colonies, asteroid mining, and much more.

IMAGES: I’m the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O’Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. 

The photos of assorted authors with whom I did panels come from the following, gratefully acknowledged sources:

The photo of Rob Howell is from his Amazon Author Page. That of P. R. Adams is from his Amazon author page. That of Lynette M. Burrows is from her Twitter Profile @LynetteMBurrows, and that of Marguerite Reed is from her Twitter Profile, @MargueriteReed9

Dora Furlong’s photo is from her Amazon Author Page. Susan R. Matthews’ image-icon is from her website; I was unable to find a photo of Craig R. Smith, so I finally settled for a cover image of his book, Into the Dark Realm

I’d like to offer special thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and photographer Ron Lutz, for use of the photo Clash of Battle.

The photo of Selina Rosen is a detail from a photo by the indispensable Keith Stokes, taken at Room Con 10 in 2014 (a party hosted by James Holloman at ConQuesT each year) and posted in the MidAmericon Fan Photo Archive

Many thanks to the Johnson County (KS) Library for the photo of Sean Demory (there’s also a great interview with him on that page). The photo of Karen Bovenmyer is from her Twitter profile @karenbovenmyer; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of Donna Wagenblast Munro or a book cover for her anywhere, so finally I substituted an image from her Facebook page.

Last but far from least, many, many thanks to J. R. Boles for the photo of the “I See No Way” panel, from her Twitter account, @writingjen