TusCon 45 Wrap-Up

My original plan was to give you a revised “thought experiment” this week in which I asked you what one device you would keep if you had to give up everything else, assuming that electrical power was still available. I’m going to hold that for next week, however, in favor of a quick summary of my participation in TusCon 45, the Tucson Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Convention this past weekend. (The organizers are so organized, they’ve already updated their site for next year’s event!)

TusCon is a small and friendly convention (or “con,” in the lingo). While most of the participating authors come from Arizona or adjacent states, the staff has managed to score some big-name authors as the Author Guest of Honor, including George R. R. Martin (who happens to live in New Mexico) a couple years ago.

The con features not only the usual panel discussions and single-author presentations, book signings, and dealer room, but also an art room where all of the art is for sale, a game room for both board and online games, steampunk/Dr. Who/Star Trek/Star Wars “cosplay” (costume events), and a non-stop film festival of everything from horror to anime (an originally Japanese comic book/animated film style). With all that going on, you’d think there’d be a gazillion people, like there are at the various ComiCons around the nation.

You’d be wrong. Attendance is less than 200, and the event never feels crowded, the way ComiCons can.

This was my sixth or seventh year attending TusCon and for the first time, I was invited to be a panelist. I got to participate in panels on whether we (America, presumably) have lost our spirit of exploration, especially as it pertains to space exploration, critique groups, and telling stories from new angles. All good fun. Here’s a picture of my critique group panel.

L-R: Me, John Vornholt, Gemma Lauren Krebs, T. L. Smith

But I gave up my “panel virginity” with my first ever one: “Drake & McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing.” What a way to start! At 10 PM on Friday night, two published authors—myself and David Lee Summers—were each paired up with a volunteer audience member. My partner was Jocelynne Simone, a.k.a. “Madam Askew” (pronounced a-SKEW), local steampunk celebrity and “tea aficionada.”

The ever-glamorous Madam Askew

“Dr. Sparky McTrowell” and “Chief Inspector Erasmus McTrowell” (their steampunk names, in case you hadn’t guessed) then inflicted upon the two teams—I MEAN, challenged us with—three plot points, selected by the audience from a list of twenty provided by our persecutors—I MEAN, our moderators. The first ones were:

  • Crazed herpetologists are breeding incendiary salamanders.
  • Pandemic chocolate craving.
  • Mud was everywhere!

Our task was then to improvise—out loud, and in real time—a story using these prompts, plus two “hot potatoes” that would be thrown at us during the event. David and his partner took the first one, and had two minutes to tell the first part of the story. (To be clear, there was no preparation time: they had to jump right into it.)

At the end of their two minutes, Madam Askew and I had to pick the story up, add the second plot point and the “hot potato” submitted by the audience and selected by Drake and McTrowell (“a love triangle develops”), and improvise the continuation of the story for two minutes.

Finally, David and his partner had to take the last plot point plus one more “hot potato,” (“Suddenly a DeLorean appeared, out of which stepped their love-child”), and complete the tale in another two minutes of madcap improvisation.


Then the partners were replaced and we did it all again. This time the prompts were:

  • Plot point 1: “They’ll never make fun of me again,” he exclaimed as he downed the entire vial of glowing green liquid.
  • Plot point 2: A mechanical squid plays the bagpipes beautifully.
  • Hot potato 1: The Tower of London makes a perfect nesting place.
  • Plot point 3: To make the task at hand easier, the Peregrine [a steampunk airship] is outfitted with a pumpkin launcher.
  • Hot potato 2: The giant snapping turtle crawled out of its tank with a menacing snap of its jaws.

This time my new partner David and I got to start and finish.

Do not adjust your eyes. The picture IS blurry.

Needless to say, much craziness and creativity were involved but not, surprisingly, adult beverages.

Madam Askew’s outfits are always quite dramatic, she puts a lot of effort into them. Here’s one more photo of her, David Lee, and an unidentified interloper that will give you a better idea. She wore a different one every day.

Madam Askew, David Lee Summers (right), and an unidentified interloper

The con wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, by which time I was ready to head home, but it was a grand time and I’m already signed up for next year.

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