Archive for category Personal

A Few Thoughts On VCON 40 Revisted

I wrote a few thoughts about this year’s VCON shortly after the event had ended this year. A month has not passed, and I feel the need to revisit what I had to say then. Not about my core question of whether what I experienced at VCON indicates a trend or a blip, but about the bias I (and others?) are carrying with us when we attend.

IMG_9925I am a writer. Though this is a fan and not a writers convention it does have a strong writer track to its scheduling. The more I consider the way I thought about it after my last post, the more I saw how I have been limiting my experience by attending as a writer.

A closer look at the schedule revealed how many of the panels that had been presented were only writer related because I approached them with that overlay. While panels like Time Travel in Film and What Makes a Good SF Television Series can present ideas writers can use, that was not the primary aim of either.

On the flip side. Is it possible that some people have stopped attending VCON because they have come to feel it is too writer centric rather than offering more in their particular fandom?

I recognise that no con can reach out to every fandom in every medium. I also know that a new writer centric con has been added to the local calendar, and that more than a few people who attended the latter chose not to attend VCON because of the perceived overlap. Hotels and travel costs for out-of-towners aside, it does not have to be this way.

I do not want to see VCON fade away. I also do not want to see it become so narrow in its focus that people continue to stay away because it has stopped speaking to them. I for one plan to attend future VCONs with the eye to seeing it from more than my writers eye.


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The Sacrifice Of Being A Writer

I hear lots of people comment on how much you have to sacrifice to be a writer. Today I got to thinking about how wrong such a sentiment can be. It can be likened to the person who says you can’t enjoy a party if you don’t get drunk or don’t go out of your way to show off.


The world and all that implies is too big for anyone to take in during a finite lifespan. We all have to make choices about what we desire the most during this life we’ve been given.

In this sense I see sacrifice as having to give up something we desire in order to accomplish that which has to be done. I would rather be writing than have to spend long hours each day earning a living. It could be argued that I sacrifice my writing time in order to keep a roof over my head.

Mind you, a quick look at how I describe myself will show that I put writing beneath God and family. In that sense keeping a roof over my family’s head is a higher priority than writing.

All that being said, I do put writing over everything else. I am not sacrificing TV time to write. I am not sacrificing sport time to write. I am not sacrificing travel time to write. Though I may add travel time to my writing world if I reach the point that attending cons outside the local area makes sense to my writing outreach. What I am sacrificing is writing time to go off and do any of the above.

To rephrase an earlier statement, choosing to make writing a major part of my life is a matter of priority, not sacrifice. There are plenty of lesser things I willingly give up to write because they are just not important enough to place above writing. No sacrifice required.

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A Few Thoughts On VCON 40, 2015

VCON, Vancouver’s premier science-fiction, fantasy, and gaming convention is over for another year. I must confess I’m a relative new comer to this wonderful con having only attended the last 6-7 years. The energy, the people, the panels, and of course both the artist and vendor halls have all been something to look forward too each year.

Cat's Knitting TableYet, this year in particular, I have noted a disturbing trend, declining attendance with an emphasis on little in the way of new blood. My wife runs the Cat’s Knitting table in the vendor hall as I attend panels. In the first few years she had come home with enough profit to cover all our costs including hotel. This year we chose to commute from home each each day and still she all but chewed her nails over low sales until a last minute surge gave her a slim, and I do mean slim, net take home. Other vendors reported the similar results.

We’ve wondered about this a couple of years now. Where are the people? Why isn’t VCON growing at least in proportion to the local population?

Some of this can be put down to the growing con scene with big anime and fan expos each year. But all of it?

At the same time I’ve noticed how little time the people behind VCON spend on the official channels through Twitter, Facebook, and the VCON blog. I know of no ads and no effort to get the word out through local news outlets designed for that very purpose. As for attendees, I might be the only one who regularly mentions VCON throughout the remainder of the year. (Please prove me wrong).

All of which leads to a final question. Is this something those of us who enjoy VCON need to worry about going forward, or is it nothing more than the usual cyclical process most fandoms go through?

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Going Home

I must confess that common usage of this terms leaves me scratching my head.

My parents emigrated from England before I was born. Until the discovery of a long lost branch of the family in Utah we were all but the only representatives of the Downwards in North America. There is one other Downward clan out there, but even they may be related if you search back far enough. The point I want to make is that I do have a specific heritage in which I was raised.

It’s summer in NA. This means people have been ‘Going Home’ on vacation. It won’t be long before talk turns to ‘Going Home’ for Christmas or similar festivities. Not to mention all the people glued to the news about events occurring ‘Back Home’.

I don’t get it. To me, Home is wherever I unpack my suitcase. I recognise that some people are nomads by choice or work constraints, in which case their suitcase could be considered their Home. Others unpack in which ever temperary abode they find themselves in, to which I must reply Why?

My wife and I recently bought a house in Maple Ridge BC. That is now our Home. Before then lived in a bare land strata complex in a place called Anmore. That was our Home until we moved. If we were to move into a rental house in the middle of Iowa USA tomorrow, that would become our Home. (For that matter, such a move would make me an Amercan regardless of what the official paperwork calls me. Though the bigger picture that unpacks would require at least its own blog post.)

To me, Home is a intimate concept, not some place I pine for while made for whatever reason to establish day-to-day roots somewhere else. I visit my parents (though they have complicated the issue by moving several times since I ‘Left Home’). I may someday travel to England and see the places my parents grew up. None of these places are Home.

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Your Definition Of Success As A Writer

This post by Derek Haines has me once again thinking about my definition of success when it comes to being a writer.

Let’s face it, everyone has their own measure of success. Some want the numbers. Other’s want the validation of an award or list position. A few want nothing more than to know their work is out there. My goal is to one day generate sufficient income to replace what I earn from by bread and butter job. Though I do reserve the right to re-evaluate that goal as circumstances change.

If this weren’t enough, reports like the one Derek refers to give us only a part of the story. Who’s to say those .99c books aren’t loss leaders? The author could be hoping readers will go on to purchase other full price books. The whole phenomenon of perma-free books suggests this is a valid marketing technique once the author has sufficient works available.

On the flip side, Derek suggests the pricier books on the list could only have gotten there by way of a corporate publishers deep pocket marketting machine. This is an equally short-sighted position to take. There are authors out there I to whom would willingly pay 12.99ish for their next ebook. In fact, the single greatest obstacle I face when looking for an ebook is availability in the format of my choice. While not a deal breaker, having to maintain multiple libraries is a bit of a pain.

I guess my real point is that we have insufficient information to define success within the context provided.

One the other hand, as a reader who has never bought a .99c book (or downloaded a free book I hadn’t already decided I was ready to buy for that matter), I might not be the best person to tackle this question.

Enough of me rambling off on a subject I’m not yet qualified enough about to have more than an opinion. Look at what you want to achieve. Set your own goals. Then measure your success by how well you do in achieving them.

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Putting My Words Where My Mouth Is

My profile calls me a writer of science fiction adventure. Many of my posts reference back to this fact. The time has come to puts words where my mouth is, and, I hope, to seed interest in the coming release of my first novel Synergy Of Hopes.



One’s Place

A Worlds Together Teaser

The plaque read, Ensign Acer, Guard Fleet Admissions. June Trynamour wiped her hands dry before reaching for the handle. It had taken a lot of finagling to make it this far. She couldn’t allow herself to slip up now.

The young man behind the too organised desk glanced up. “Please be seated Miss Trynamour.”

Nothing good ever came from a person who kept their space so neat. She sat, hands on her lap.

The Ensign looked her in the eye with an unwavering gaze. “So you want to join Guard Fleet.”

Her sister had a similar knack for seemingly seeing past her guard. “Yes. I mean, it has become clear that Guard Fleet offers me a world of opportunities I may not get elsewhere.”

“I see.” He looked at his desk display. “I also see that you have demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for engineering and related physical sciences.”

Her heart leapt at the thought. “Yes, indeed. Ask anyone who knows me. Circuits and Gears is my middle name.”

“Yes, that is on record, along with your age.” He looked up once more. “We usually do not consider candidates before their eighteenth birthday.”

A cold sweat swept down her back inspite of all the time she’s spent preparing for this objection. “All the required paperwork has been filed.” With a few tweaks to improve her odds.

“Then you understand my need to ask the question.”

She held herself to a simple nod. They were almost through the script now. She’d worked too hard to blow it now.

“What then should I say about those points in your entrance exams that are best labelled as problematic?”

Problematic, yes, but not fatal. “If I understand my councillors correctly, the rigorous training for Guard Fleet is just what I need in those very areas.”

“That’s an interesting thought, but you should know that there is no place in Guard Fleet for mavericks. Which brings me to my next question, how much did the recruitment of your sister affect your decision to apply to join Guard Fleet?”

She looked at her hands. The one question she feared the most. Susan always got the breaks. It was her turn. She raised her head “I admit it freely. My eyes were opened to the possibilities when Susan, that is Ensign Susan Trynamour, first told us she had been approached by representatives of Guard Fleet.”


Now wasn’t the time to faulter. “And, I learned so much about Guard Fleet that I had never known before. It was a taste that told me to look closer, and when I did, it became clear that Guard Fleet would be a perfect match for my own skills.”

“Your engineering skills?”

Once more she nodded. “I come from a small abyssal research community, and everyone has told me that my talents were being wasted within the limits of that world.”

“You had other options, like your sister. College, university, technical institutes. I know your parents are well prepared to see you go forward.”

And waste all that time on donkey work when assignment within Guard Fleet would put her on the front lines within a year? “That is true, and I was thinking along those lines, until the Guard Fleet option was made real to me.”

“Very well, let’s concentrate on that option for a moment.”

What was he looking for? What did he suspect?

“Aside from giving you an opportunity to handle the latest in hi-tech equipment, what is Guard Fleet to you?”

This was it, the make or break. She took a deep breath. “Guard Fleet is a symbol for something much greater than itself, the Commonwealth of Planets, the greatest experiment in representative intra-stellar government ever encountered. Guard Fleet exists to tell the universe that the Commonwealth is willing to stand firm for what it believes. Guard Fleet makes it possible for peace loving citizens everywhere to go about their lives without fear.”

“There is no denying you would have made a great recruitment ad. The question is, do you really believe that is true?”

As long as she got in. She straightened her shoulders. “I do, and if anything, the process of applying to Guard Fleet has only strengthened my resolve. Guard Fleet is where I belong, and I expect nothing less than the chance to prove it.”

The Ensign tapped his console, then stood and reached his hand across the desk, “In that case, Cadet, welcome to Guard Fleet.”

Her heart pounded in her ears as she stood to accept his hand.


The plaque read, Lieutenant Hansard, Chief of Operations.

Trynamour wiped her hands dry before stepping through and coming to attention. “Private Trynamour reporting as ordered.”

The Lieutenant looked up from his desk. “At ease, Private.”

She knew the drill, feet apart, hands behind her back.

The Lieutenant looked her in the eye. “Private, what exactly is it about this office that makes you want to spend so much time here?”

“Sir?” Something was wrong. Though the words were familiar, he’s spoken with an edge she rarely heard from her superiors.

“Let me rephrase my question. Are you here because you believe in Guard Fleet, or are you here on some kind of ego trip?”

She gulped in spite of herself. “I do not understand. My belief in Guard Fleet is a matter of record dating back to the day I was accepted.”

“Correction. A belief in Guard Fleet is on record. The question remains, has it ever been your belief?”

Why that question? Why now? Things had changed, she had seen what Guard Fleet really did, and was proud to play a part. Except for that small problem of dealing with the assorted numbskulls who portioned out tasks.

“Once upon a time you were told there is no place in Guard Fleet for mavericks, yet you continue to push the bounds of discipline and decor.”

She thought back over the intervening time since her last visit to this office. “Excuse me, sir. Except for a couple of small incidents, I have done nothing of the sort since our last talk.”

The Lieutenant looked at his desk display. “Basically correct. Unfortunately for you, one of your past excesses was not so easily forgotten.”

He turned the display around to reveal the results of one of her entrance exams, one she had tweaked upwards, except this readout showed her original scores.

“You were very clever about this, and the others.”

She fought to keep her composure. “That was almost two years ago. Surely I have proved myself since then.”

“That is not the point. You joined Guard Fleet under false pretences. Probably out of jealousy over the success of your sister Ensign Susan Trynamour.”

She cringed because the Lieutenant was right. “But that was then and so much has changed.”

“Nevertheless, a formal complaint has been placed before a board of review.”

She gasped. “Court Marshall?”

“That is one option.”

“And the others?”

“I have been authorised to offer you an alternative.”

She couldn’t let him see her waiver. “What kind of alternative?”

“You said it yourself, all this occurred almost two years ago.”

“You want me to tear up my application to re-enlist?”

“If you do, this issue will not be placed on your record, and you will be credited for your many achievements.”

An unnatural tightness rose from her chest into her throat. “Is there no other way?”

“The parties bringing this charge have made it clear they will only accept this one grudgingly.”

She let her shoulders slump. “Then I really don’t have any choice, do I? What is to become of me until my demobilisation?”

The Lieutenant smiled. “I do have a few tasks that will keep you out of the way until then.”

The numerous possibilities caused her to shiver.

“Actually, I was thinking of using your special talents to their max while I still can.”

She could not hide her surprise.

He pulled something out of his desk. “Here are your orders, you are to report to launch pad twelve immediately.”

Choked, she took the small packet and stepped back. They had just stripped her of everything she’d worked for, but she refused to let him see it. In its place, she offered the best salute she had ever managed. “Yes, sir!”



The plaque read, Everett Lloyd, Manager. Trynamour wiped the lubricant off her hands before stepping through.

Mr. Lloyd sat with his hands steepled on his desk. “Randy was just in here. You remember Randy, senior engineer, and your immediate supervisor.”

“Oh crap. Just because I…”

“Just because you ignored his instructions, again, and then had the audacity to chew him out when he caught you working on the wrong project.”

“But he was allowing the Laraby Project to fall behind when we all know the pressure you are under to get it completed.”

“That is my business, not yours, and for the record, Randy was following my orders. Did you hear that, my orders. The orders of the man who took you on after your fourth employer let you go. The orders of the man who signs your pay stub.”

She glared at him. Yes this was her fifth job in six months, but he had not simply taken her on because she starting applying for a new position. No, he had swooped in and scooped her up because she had skills he needed.

“Let me tell you this, Trynamour, you are good, real good, but not that good.”

She almost sighed. The disciplines she had bucked in Guard Fleet looked more and more preferable to another one of these rants. If only that were still an option.

“So. No snide remarks for me? What? Am I somehow that much better than the people I employ?”

The last vestiges of her composure collapsed. “Better? Ha! You are just a greedy old man who would rather have a shop full of boot lickers than just one free thinker.”


She froze, sure the very walls were still vibrating.

He palmed something off his desk and stood.

After a moment of deep silence he reached out his hand. “Here’s payment in full. You have one hour to collect your things and clear out.”

She choked, the fire now ice. What had she done?

He thrust his hand forward. “Well, take it.”

It dawned on her that there was only one reason why the chip was all ready to go. The fire returned. She snatched the chip from his hand, turned, and stormed out of the room.


The paper read, Engineer Needed, Experience in DB, MePS, and Maast required. Must be free to travel. Bring Curriculum Vitae to room 314 in the Adarac Building. She’d had to wait two long days for the given date to arrive.

Trynamour took another look both ways down the dismal hallway. She’d only seen two people since entering the building, and neither of them appeared the least bit employable.

She fingered the paper’s less than professional texture and once again wondered who had sent it to her. While a number of people had expressed a willingness to help her locate a new job, they would have been open about sharing this lead. Wouldn’t they?

A tightening of her grip caused the paper’s edge to crinkle. She once again considered leaving this place. If only her search had produced even one other viable nibble, one other place she could check out first, but the reputation she’d brought on herself had closed all those doors. The paper went into a pocket, and she stepped through the door.

A clean shaven man sat behind a small desk. “Ah, Trynamour, glad you could make it.”

She stopped to glance around the tiny office. A hefty layer of dust covered everything but the desk, and the chair between them.

“Sit, we have much to discuss.”

Instinct honed by her time in Guard Fleet told her to run, but resolve told her to find out what was going on first. Confident in her ability to get out if things got ugly, she stepped in far enough for the door to close. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

“True, but I think you’ll find it was worth it. Now sit.”

She looked at the chair, over her shoulder at the closed door, back at the chair, and decided to do as he had asked.

“You are one remarkable lady.”

It had been a mistake to sit. What now?

“It is too bad you have a tendency to counter each of your noteworthy achievements with an act of equally nefarious defiance.”

She was still free to leave.

“Alone, unemployed, yet again, out of contact with family and home…”

She stiffened “How do you know all that?”

The man smiled. “I’ve had my eye on you ever since that little escapade with the lateral maaster on board the Waterston.”

“The Waterston? But that was…!”

“A little over a year ago, and six months before Lieutenant Hansard bid you good luck in your future endeavours.”

A chill settled into her spine. “You have no right.”

“Quite the contrary. I earned the right the day you applied to join Guard Fleet.”

She couldn’t turn down such an invitation. “How so?”

“Let us just say that the Lieutenant was not being entirely truthful when he said there was no place in Guard Fleet for mavericks.”

The chill spread. “How could you possibly know that?”

His eyes narrowed. “There are many aspects to Guard Fleet. Some very public, and some very discrete, but they all have their place, and they all have their procedures.”

Could it be? A return to Guard Fleet? On terms she might be able to live with? Who else could possibly have access to that level of intel? “Very well. I’ll play along. What would anyone in Guard Fleet want with someone who chose to leave the moment her first tour of duty was over?”

“There are many worlds that have not joined the Commonwealth, and many more we know too little about to make make any kind of informed decision one way or the other.”

“You have not answered my question.”

“The right kind of maverick can make for an excellent set of eyes and ears.”


“An audacity to keep pushing for what she considers most important. The ability to pull off a records adjustment that was only discovered because the data referred directly to her, and the discoverer had made his search a matter of personal honour.”

Her breath caught. He did know everything, and the way he spoke. Only one conclusion made sense. “You want me to become a spy.”

“And you want to find a place where you know you are making a difference for the good of the Commonwealth.”

She looked around the room once again. Thought about the dismal hallway behind her. Considered the neighbourhood in which this building stood. Focusing her eyes back on the man. “And you expect me to just take your word on this?”

“Quite the opposite. I expect you to use ever trick you know to verify my story. Just remember the code words Skyguard and Fleetjack.”

That was a challenge she would take great pleasure in tackling, though one condition remained unanswered. “How long?”

His gaze did not flinch. “I will be right here, for exactly one hour, seven days from now.”

Their business seemingly done, she stood. “Then I had best get started, Mister ?”

“Skyguard, or is that Fleetjack?”

She made no attempt to hide the wry smile that crossed her face and left determined to at last prove her worth as a Guard Fleet member.



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Space Exploration and Looking Forward

Exciting new images of Pluto from the New Horizons platform now so far from Earth have me thinking about the state of space exploration.


While the number of nations capable of boosting men and equipment into orbit and beyond remains small, there is no shortage of nations, corporations, and even individuals invested in the next stage of space exploration.

Hubble, Chandra, Kepler, and other imaging platforms in space and on the ground continue to reveal the marvels of our universe. With the arrival of New Horizons to Pluto we have now sent probes to every historically major body in our solar system. Missions like the Dawn probe to Ceres and the Deep Impact meet up with Tempel 1 have only expanded on what we know and can do.

Then there’s the wonder of having watched Voyager 1 pass beyond the heliosphere of our sun into galactic space.

Even more exciting is the new level of talk around manned missions. To Mars. Back to the moon. Even to near Earth asteroids.

I wrote a previous post over the question of how much all this costs: Billions To NASA When So Many People Are Starving? You can see how I feel about that question by following the link.

One thing I do know is how much of this need to reach out and explore is inherent in being human. For the most part, the easy stuff of mapping the surface of our own world has been done. That leaves us with the oceans about which we still know so little, and space, where we have only just begun to reach out a tentative hand.

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Where Do I Go Now

Krista Ball wrote a fascinating reflection of her journey from fear to confidence as a writer. I first heard of her when she asked a pregnancy question about one of the characters in Blaze back in the beginning if her career. She has since gone on to write a bookshelf worth of works you should go and read. I am still wavering over releasing the same book I was working on when she asked her question. I do have a second book drafted and copious notes for a third book, but still I remain unpublished..


I can give you any number of reasons why this has happened, but when I boil it all down to its essence, the problem is a lack of confidence. Have I done my best in crafting this story? Will any one want to read it? Will I become a pariah for doing it wrong? Not keeping pure to the Science Fiction genre I write in? I’ve already been warned about including too many elements of my Christian faith in my stories.

It could even be argued that taking the time to compose this post is keeping me from finishing edits on the last few pages of my latest draft. The fact we are in the middle of selling our present home and buying a new one better suited to our future needs is only incidental to the bigger picture.

Maintaining this blog doesn’t really help. Though I freely admit to making little effort to market my presence, the general lack of traffic is not what I’d call confidence inspiring to someone aspiring to a craft where discoverability is probably the single biggest obstacle we all face.

This is the year this will change. I have already pushed myself forward through moments that would have stopped me in the past. A few more steps, each capable of shutting me down as Krista described in her development as a writer, and I’ll have my first work out there and be deep into getting number two ready to follow.

One final thought. The average reader can finish a story faster than most writers can produce them. Writing isn’t a competition so much as a collaboration. Just take a look at how many different authors you have on your own bookshelf. If you find yourself in the same place I’ve been and still feel you have a story you want to tell, it’s not to late. Take a close look at what’s holding you back, set your priorities, and act upon them.

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Billions To NASA When So Many People Are Starving?

Warning. This post contains references to math.

imageImage courtesy of NASA Flickr archives

It’s a question all of us have heard in one form or another. Most of us have heard many variations of it over the years. The other day I heard it once again, sparking a little number checking and this post.

A quick check of official NASA budget numbers reveals they received over 17.7 billion last year. Keep that number in mind.

It is estimated there are over 164 million smart phone in use in the USA today.

Now to some guestimates.

Let us assume that number is overstated by 25%. That leaves 123m SPs.

Let us further assume another 25% are dedicated strictly for business. That leaves 92.25m SPs. Most of which are used primarily for entertainment.

Let us further assume 25% of those only connect to the internet via available WiFi hotspots. That leaves 69.2m SPs.

If the average monthly cost of a data plan is $50 a month or $600 a year, these users are collectively spending $41.5 billion annually.

If only 1/2 of those users acted on the question, Why am I spending so much money on instant gratification when there are people going hungry, it would produce a bigger impact than the total diversion of NASA funds to food programs.

As an aside, let me point out that it is easier for the individual to send money to a trusted charity that for that same individual to sway how a government spends the money they have skimmed off their paycheque.

In addition, of that 17.7b allocated to NASA, only a small fraction is actually shot into space. Most of it stays right here on Earth to cover the salaries of the many fine people employed either directly or within the supply chain NASA sources its material from. Those are real jobs helping to feed real families at a level that makes it possible for them to donate from their excess to the poor and hungry.

All that’s before accounting for the long list of scientific advancements and inventions that have gone on to help society at large.

I would call that something to think about before complaining that some program represents money being wasted.


An Introvert’s Thoughts On The Con Scene

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I make a point of talking up Vancouver’s premier Science Fiction, Fantasy and big dalekGames Convention VCON. It’s an event I’ve made a special point of attending for a number of years now. Not just me, but the entire family as my wife runs her Cat’s Knitting table in the Vender Hall each year with the help of our daughter.

There are many different kinds of Cons out there. Some aimed at Fans, others at Creators, and many that do their best to bridge the two in some dynamic way. To me the one thing that separates a Con from a Show is the level of interaction invited between the showees and the attendees. I’m fine with people who have a different definition.

One of my goals as a writer is to earn enough money from my craft to fund my attendance to Cons outside the local area. Another milestone would be to become big enough to attract invites to sit as a panelist at such Cons.

Only thing is, Cons can have so much going on it’s hard to find time to take a breather. All that interaction can wear a person down. I know people who thrive is such situations, who go home raring to go, their batteries charged. That’s not me. I need a vacation to recover from my ‘vacation’.

True, I’ve met a lot of fine people at past VCONs. Just as true are all the times I failed to say hello to people I wanted to meet because I couldn’t get past the inner voices telling me the time and place weren’t right. That last bit can leave me exhausted to the point of wondering if the whole thing is worth it and asking myself what else can I hope to achieve by attending the next con?

The answer as of this moment is: I don’t know. What I do know is I will be attending VCON 40 on the Dead Dog Membership purchased at the end of VCON 39. Perhaps I’ll see you there and get past those voices in my head long enough to say hello.

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