Monday, April 02, 2007

Interview with Ravencon's Con Chair, Mike Pederson

This begins what I hope will be a series of interviews with the staff of Ravencon 2007, a science fiction fantasy and horror convention in Richmond, Virginia. I am the Publicity Director and thought this would be a great way for those coming to the convention and those thinking about it to meet and get to know about those behind the scenes of this great little con. Meet Mike Pederson, Con Chair for Ravencon.

1. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been in Fandom?
I've been interested in science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember. The earliest thing I remember reading was a collection of Greek myths when I was about 4 or 5. After that I couldn't get enough of the fantastic: Edward Eager's Half Magic series, Jay Williams' Danny Dunn books, Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet series, and (of course) the Heinlein juveniles.
I didn't know about the world of fandom until my Freshman year of high school. A few seniors tried to start a science fiction club that lasted for about two months. During one of the few meetings we had a couple of girls who were talking about a convention they had attended and were showing off the Battlestar Galactica viper pilot jacket they bought. I was fourteen and very impressed. Sadly though I still wasn't able to make it to my first science fiction con until my Freshman year of college when a friend took me to SciCon at ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Virginia Beach. That was in 1986 and I've been insinuating myself into Fandom more and more ever since.

2. You edit the Nth Degree—why did you start doing it? How long? Tell the process of editing it and what was the best issue you did.
Nth Degree: The Fiction & Fandom Zine is a semiprozine that I started in 2002. In the past I've published a comic book (Raven) and a Richmond-based entertainment magazine (Scene). I missed the hectic fun of publishing and wanted to start something new. I was also looking for a good excuse to spend more time at SF conventions so it seemed like a good marriage. I was looking for a new spin to put on the idea of a fanzine too. My basic concept was to model it on local entertainment papers that are given away for free at bars and coffee houses. So what we have now is a free magazine that is given away at science fiction conventions. The contents are usually book reviews, con reviews, poetry, 3-4 short stories, a humorous filk, and comics. Sadly, I've had to put the zine on hiatus for right now while money is tight. Hopefully that will change soon.
The process of editing a standard issue is usually about three solid weeks of work. I decide on what stories I want to use and then drop them into QuarkXpress, where I do all my layout. After I put the stories and poems into the template I figure out how much space I have left to fill and then solicit the artists that I know for accompanying artwork. Then I spend the next two weeks writing my own part of the magazine—the Editor's Rant, book reviews, and con reviews. Fortunately I have friends that have been a huge help writing con reviews. It makes it easier to give a wider geographical sampling of conventions if I have four or five people writing reviews each issue. After that I plug in the artwork and comics as they arrive by email from the artists and do about three complete edits on the entire magazine before sending it off to the printers.
I don't think I have a favorite issue. Each issue usually has something that stands out for me—a great book review, a good mix of stories, nice layout, etc. A lot of people commented on my editorial comparing Fandom to poker, I liked the feedback. Generally though, the issue that I've just finished is usually my favorite.

3. You obviously love literature. Who was the one author you were excited to meet and finally did? Of the genres, science fiction, fantasy and horror, which one do you like to read the most, or do you like them all?
I'm not usually the rabid fanboy at cons. I enjoy the company of authors and have great fun hanging out with authors from the world of small press as well as from big publishing, so just meeting an author doesn't usually get me excited although I do get a little excited when I look in my address book and see the handful of major authors I have in there. I wish that I could have met Isaac Asimov, that would have gotten me pretty excited. Larry Niven hung out in the con suite at the first con I attended, Jack Haldeman was at the very first room party I threw, Roger Zelazny hung out at the table next to me the first time I worked a table in the dealer's room… it just always felt natural to have authors around. I think that's part of what I'm trying to recreate with RavenCon.
Of the genres, my first preference has always been for science fiction. I have impossibly high standards for fantasy; I always want something new, rather than the same generic Tolkienesque setting every time. I think that the believability of science fiction has always appealed to me. Spaceships really could exist in the future. Magic swords are less likely.

4. Tell us why you decided to do RavenCon. And why in Richmond, Virginia?
I had been thinking about a con in Richmond for a very long time. I lived in Richmond for most of 1986-2005. In that time I would go to Fairfax, Washington D.C., Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Roanoke, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham for conventions. It didn't take me long to figure that Richmond was dead center in the middle of a lot of con activity but had no convention of its own. In 1993 I started publishing the Raven comic book and decided that I had enough contacts in Fandom to try putting on my own con. Some friends and I floated the idea and generated a little interest but we were young and naive and nothing came of it. When I started Nth Degree I became much more involved in Fandom than I had been previously. I also met Tony Ruggiero and Tee Morris, two writers that go to as many cons as I do. Tony and Tee are probably the two greatest guys that I've met through Fandom. They are energetic, opinionated, intelligent, creative, and generally fun to be around. After one convention that the three of us attended I turned to them and said, "This doesn't look so hard. I bet we could throw a con." They both actually agreed with me and the rest is history.

5. Did last year's con prove everything you wanted it to, or did it exceed beyond your expectations?

Yes and yes. It proved the "If you build it, they will come" theory of putting a con in Richmond. So I felt very vindicated. It exceeded my expectations in the sense that it was hailed as an incredibly well organized con. Fortunately, I have the greatest friends in the world and they did an amazing job putting the con together. Financing was the other area where we exceeded expectations. The entire con was put together with pocket change. If we lost too much money on our first year we wouldn't be able to continue. When I woke up on Sunday morning, the last day of the con, I still didn't know if there would be a "next year". By the middle of the day all of the receipts were coming in and it looked like we would break even. Now we're making plans for the next three years.

6. Where do you see RavenCon in the future?
In the near future, we're moving to a larger hotel next year that will allow us to add an Art Show and have a larger Dealer's Room and more Gaming. Eventually, I want RavenCon to be the largest SF con in Virginia. I think we debuted in the top five (not counting anime cons). Above all it's about having fun so I don't want to be too big. But I want to be large enough to be able to continue bringing in top name authors and artists. I've been asked to sponsor a Deep South Con bid. I think that's a great idea. Further down the line I'd like to look into World Fantasy and World Con bids as well.

7. Give RavenCon's website and a little bit of promo for it. — It's a great little site. We've had three different webmaster tweaking it over the last two years and I think they've done a splendid job. Our current webmaster, Doris Manning, has kept it very up-to-date and easy to navigate. We've got a complete listing of all our guests (over 60!) on the site as well as our entire program schedule and a good portion of our gaming schedule. Check it out!

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