by Garth Spencer
(This reading on convention history was largely prepared on the basis of
a Vancouver fanhistory published in Opuntia.)
The Short Version
Westercon 44 (also known as V-Con 19) was held July 1991 in Vancouver, B.C.,
at the University of British Columbia. For people attending it was fun;
for the committee holding it, it was a nightmare. I conclude that for whatever
reasons, too many problems and risks attend a large, perambulating convention
such as Westercon for the exercise to be worth all the pain and trouble.
In the event, Vancouver fans took a five-figure loss, rather than a five-figure
profit, with concomitant damage to our morale, our goodwill in fandom and
the business community, and our membership.
We should have had a successful Westercon in all respects ... if
we had had a few hundred more people attending; or if we had restricted
our spending; if we had signed a contract a whole year earlier (our
regular practice, I believe); if we had had an entirely different
chair, and if many other, more experienced people had joined -- or
stayed on -- the Westercon committee. However, I conclude that's a few too
many ifs. Cons are risks, there's always a Murphy factor out there, and
if you can't reduce the risk level then the convention bid is just not on.
Given the irreducible risk level and Murphy factor associated with a con
this big, I think we were foolish not to question this whole proposition,
very harshly, in 1988.
Above all, we should have demanded more accountability from our chair. But
we didn't have the spine.
The Long Version:
In July of 1988, Fran Skene returned to Vancouver from Westercon 41 in Phoenix,
with a proposal to bid for Westercon 44. I think now this was a mistake
-- not because we couldn't handle it, but because such a large con attracts
more than one kind of trouble, more trouble than any convention is worth,
I maintain -- but I'm far from an impartial witness.
Westercon is a perambulating regional SF convention, usually circulating
in the western States but open to bids from Canada. In practice, it is usually
held on the July 4th weekend, somewhere in the Southwest. Apparently it
was conceived shortly after World War II by Los Angeles fans, in order to
bring together fans from around the West; in the mid-forties, there were
practically no cons in the West. By now, though, there are conventions
in most population centres and several each year in the Seattle-Tacoma
Most Westercons now regularly draw over 2500 members. You mount a bid three
years before the date you're bidding for; the site selection is held two
years in advance.
Now, Vancouver fans hosted (and Fran chaired) Westercon 30 at the University
of British Columbia, in 1977. Quite a number of Northwest conventions sprang
up in the years immediately following Westercon 30 (Norwescon, Moscon, NonCon,
OryCon, etc.). Vancouver bid for the Westercon (and lost) a couple of times
after that, most recently for 1989.
However, some out-of-town fans turned up their noses at the 1977 site, Totem
Residence. (It has been spruced up somewhat since then.) Also, Westercon
30 was disparaged as "a one-and-a-half-day con crammed into four
It has never since been established, for fans who are not Westercon regulars,
what the regular attendees want.
After this sort of talk, Ed Beauregard, formerly one of the most prominent
local fans, opposed Vancouver's campaigning again for any outside, travelling
cons. Beauregard's opinion is worth listening to, as he has several times
helped sort out the figures for cons with rather scrambled accounts (Westercon
Fran Skene quickly gathered a core group of old and new Vancouver fans for
the 1991 bid, including some well-known and experienced fans. Early members
of the bid committee for Westercon 44/V-Con 19 included William C.S.A.A.
Lowe, Steve Barclay, Sara Brearly, Dan Dubrick, Steve Ens, Scotty Evans,
Dave Finnerty, Steve Forty, Constantin Hiebner, Ed Hutchings, Kathleen
David New, Lisa Smedman, Garth Spencer and Sidney Trim. From the first,
then, the committee represented both long-time BCSFA members and new members,
and a wide age and interest range in Vancouver fandom. The committee began
producing flyers announcing Vancouver's bid to hold this Westercon, at U.B.C.'s
Gage Residence on July 4-7, 1991. Our opposition was Sacramento, which (I
was told) has several times bid effectively for Westercons, and enjoyed
San Franciscan support; but other congoers (e.g. Angelenos) were unhappy
with the actual conventions they held.
I detail the foregoing because, in later correspondence with jan howard
finder, I discovered that rumours were going about that this was merely
a Los Angeles bid to run against Sacramento, with no local support. Later
still, it developed that some fans thought Vancouver won the Westercon under
false pretences ... when we had been advertising U.B.C. and Gage Residence
(Much later, I decided that this kind of rumour-mongering is a regular feature
of upcoming Westercons and Worldcons, even after a bid has won the site
selection. At the time, though, nobody was braced for it.)
At first the Westercon 44 bid promotions played off of nearby Wreck Beach,
the clothes-optional beach near the U.B.C. campus. Later, the emphasis shifted
to "The Future Is Here. Now.", and sought to promote Canadian
literature and SF in the program.
Fran Skene persuaded me to join the Westercon bid committee in charge of
publications. Now, I had reservations about a con as big as Westercon was
then described. I had arrived at the conclusion, while editing Maple
Leaf Rag, that big cons are not ipso facto good cons; rather
the reverse. That you have to set limited parameters to work within -- count
the costs, for one thing, and measure how much of them you can pay -- then
you try to accomplish goals within your limits. I believe that fans,
being largely amateurs, tend to get into situations they cannot cope with,
and that big cons tend to outrun any fan group's competence. I did not
about the situations that American Worldcon or Westercon committee members
dealt with -- I was mainly concerned with Northwest fandom.
Nevertheless, this was Fran promoting the Westercon bid, a fan
well-known up and down the coast, and the WKF who introduced me to Northwest
fandom. So I just took it on faith that a Westercon was a worthwhile
We produced one bid report in 1988 (rather than two), which I based on our
answers to the kind of questions Bruce Farr recommended be asked of Worldcon
bids. The Westercon 44 bid obtained $1500 in seed money from WCSFCCA for
promotions, on the agreement that WCSFCCA would share in Westercon 44 profits,
if and when. It might have been about now that Fran decided who would take
over chairing Westercon, if we won our bid.
There were reasons for Fran to look for someone else to chair the actual
Westercon. She was undergoing domestic difficulties, and was contemplating
a work-study librarianship program overseas (which subsequently evaporated).
People have since criticized her choice, an enthusiastic older professional
person who was not very experienced in fandom; but to my knowledge, only
this one person volunteered to succeed her.
The fan designated to chair our Westercon, if and when, was on the V-Con
17 and 18 committees, and also attended some SCA events. While this person's
acquaintance with cons and SF and related fandoms didn't go back very far,
I presumed that it did. I thought for a long time that the chair -- a new
BCSFAn, by the way -- was a longtime friend Fran had brought in to the club.
Around or before Westercon 42, this chair took executive positions in our
local club, and on our convention coordination committee.
This person was doing academic contract work at Simon Fraser University's
conference centre, and was quite busy on a Master's thesis. By taking charge
of situations, and emphasized organizing some plans and executing them,
by seeming to be collected, hardheaded, businesslike and organized, this
character looked like a leader. In fairness I ought to say that the fan
in question served competently as a treasurer on the V-Con 18 committee.
It wasn't until much later that I learned how the eventual Westercon chair
became chair. Fran had mentioned at a V-Con 17 or 18 meeting that
she had to find someone to succeed her. Whereupon this academic person
and Fran demurred, and said academic fan then threw a tantrum. Fran responded
by giving in, as we all did, later. I found this tale characteristic of
our Westercon chair.
After the Site Selection
Vancouver won the Westercon site selection for 1991 at Anaheim in 89. Our
committee underwent the first of several reorganizations immediately following
the Anaheim Westercon; William Lowe stepped down as Acting Treasurer, new
members were added, and some positions were shifted around. (I think now
this was a danger sign, and that playing musical committee is a cardinal
mistake for any con.) The new chair started holding formally-organized
and drew up a Table of Organization (the first of several).
I should say that this Westercon faced several external problems not of
its own making. I cite the changes in provincial and federal legislation
that all came about at this time -- the first implementation of the Canada-U.S.
"Free Trade" Act, affecting Customs duties; the new federal Goods
and Services Tax; and (in early 1991) the sudden appearance of new B.C.
liquor legislation, which (the new chair told us) meant that Westercon had
to have licensed bartenders handling liquor, with up to a million dollars'
worth of insurance. (As it worked out, the creative rumours about Westercon
44 were not important.)
In fact, it had looked for a bit as though the next progress report would
have to list a detailed table of duties and tax payable on certain categories
of art and hucksters' items; but an arrangement was set up so that artshow
material, and much of the dealers' material from the U.S., would come into
Canada under bond. In effect, the art and dealers' rooms would be a bonded
warehouse, thus obviating a lot of duty (certainly for American members
buying from American dealers at our Westercon). From this point on, I think,
the chair started calling Westercon an "American" con. This I
think derives from some nomenclature in the B.C. government paperwork the
chair was handling; but it may also have led to some misconceptions on the
By sometime as early as that fall, the Westercon chair persuaded me to move
up from Publications to Secretary of the Westercon. I kept feeling doubtful
at my increasing responsibility but, like everyone else, I did not measure
my time or energy; so it was hard to say no and make it stick. It was also
hard to refuse when, from time to time, the chair asked me or the treasurer,
Jackie Wilson, to sign some cheque blanks to save time in making expenses.
(Another cardinal mistake we could have spotted.)
Birds of a Feather
It dawned on me at one meeting, when the idea of a fanzine room came up,
that none of the rest of the committee knew what fanzines were. They didn't
know what this had to do with Jerry Kaufman, Suzanne Tompkins, or the Haydens
-- the convention's advertised guests. I think now this was only typical
of BCSFA at the time; fannish, fanzine fandom was not even a memory. This
might have a bearing on our lack of perspective about good chairmanship.
It also developed that our chair was someone to come up with big, glossy
ideas for the con. Maybe this was good for P.R., but I began to be uneasy.
For one thing, the chair kept on reorganizing the committee. It was hard
(as Dave New and Michael Jackson discovered) to do a job when its scope
kept being changed. For another thing, the musical committee began to look
as though competent people, or people who told the chair no sometimes,
found themselves demoted or edged out. And Fran Skene found herself edged
out from programming with Con Hiebner, to childcare, to opening ceremonies.
Finally, she quit.
Nearly ten years before I had seen a mediafan possessed of big glossy ideas
(and not much else) try to set up a big convention, in Victoria, and instead
created a fiasco. But since the Westercon chair was a degreed professional
of mature years, I could not quite believe there was a parallel.
The chair acknowledged being relatively new to fannish conventions, and
made a concerted effort to get to a lot of conventions to learn everything
possible. This included not only trips to Northwest conventions but to
Baycon, and SMOFCon in Orlando ... ?? I suspect now this only led to more
misconceptions about conventions, and to lamentable budgetary consequences.
Down to a Sunless Sea
The chair of Westercon 44 kept on coming up with ideas. One was to produce
a video to promote the Westercon. Another was that, since V-Con would not
be held in May in 1991, break up the long gap between Northwest cons with
a relaxicon in February (Sanctuary). This idea got the go-ahead from WCSFCCA
and was planned for the Relax Plaza in Richmond.
About the first I heard of L.A.'s Westercon bylaws was in spring of 1990,
when Westercon 43 (Portland) sent out their Progress Report #4. I studied
these and made copies for the committee, noting down a timetable for the
sequence of tasks demanded by the bylaws; mostly this document concerned
site selection procedure, but some measures applied to Registration and
The chair noted at the June 10, 1990 Westercon meeting there were strange
rumours circulating about our con, and that American fans expected things
of Westercons which were not planned for ours -- free pop and liquor and
full-meal spreads in Hospitality, for example. (We believed at the time
that some things just weren't legally available, like complimentary beer
from local breweries. It appeared to us that American fans wouldn't accept
a lot of Canadian facts of life.)
I think it was largely due to the nebulous "something extra" to
Westercons, which Westercon SMOFs could not be bothered to define, that
the Westercon 44 chair kept adding special features to the program. Trying
to measure up to an undefined standard, whatever it cost.
By the July 15th meeting, two or three items had emerged as major concerns
-- the strange rumours, the expected outlay at a Westercon SFWA suite, and
misinformation about Customs.
We were supposed to have already released information on new Customs
for costumers, artists and dealers. The chair wound up going back and going
back repeatedly to the Customs department and not getting the answers our
Westercon 43 (Portland, July 1990)
I wish now I hadn't gone. Like most of the cons I went to in 1990 (too many,
in my opinion), I went to this one grimly determined to support the Westercon
promotion. Fat lot of good I was, too.
At one point I was cornered by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch,
who kept telling me how inadequate they thought Westercon 44's SFWA suite
was going to be. I let them buffalo me into a panic, and Jerry Kaufman spent
a half hour or so calming me down. I should have told them that 44 was going
to be our con, managed our way. Or that I was only the secretary, the chair
wouldn't listen to bugger-all, from me. But I have always been too
... and so was the con.
In August of 1990 I resigned as Secretary. I remember being persuaded
to do one more thing than I was already doing; the chair kept loading
and progress-report inputs and more and more documents onto me to process;
I was regularly staying up past midnight at my place of work -- sometimes
not getting home until 3 a.m. -- trying to get things bloody done
... and the chair kept changing the table of organization, or documented
plans, or withholding information (mostly, information from Customs). To
hear the chair tell it, this was because it took four go-rounds to get out
of Customs what dealers and artists needed to know.
And then, I heard, the chair was going around complaining that I
was squatting on stuff.
Vicki Oates finally went to the Customs department herself, because as late
as May '91 she still didn't have artshow information she needed -- and
that the personnel there had found our chair hard to communicate
For me, this was the end of my enthusiasm for the Westercon. In fact I was
ready to chuck fandom; but I still felt obligated to finish what I had agreed
to do ... and I could think of nowhere else to go. I only stayed on as
to this point because I felt obligated to stick it out. Obligated, on behalf
of my friends in Vancouver. Like a fool, I stayed on in charge of site
Later I found myself responsible for the daily con zine and the fanzine
room ... which, as it turned out, I could not be present for, or work on
I was not alone in my unhappiness with this chair. Other members were becoming
alarmed at all the "neat ideas" being piled onto the convention
and the program -- the chair meanwhile insisting that we had to put on as
"professional" a spread as possible. We had a lot of alarm about
the budget -- or did we even have one? -- and where our breakeven
point lay. It can be stated accurately that by mid-1990, a number of Westercon
committee members were hindered by the chair in the performance of their
jobs, and complaining to each other about it. Anyone questioning or criticizing
the chair got the third degree, got screamed at, or got ignored.
Lita Smith-Gharet, of the Northwest Costumer's Guild, tells me that the
chair approached her at Moscon in 1990, because the chair wanted a
masquerade. Initial plans were to hold this event in a curling-rink-sized
auditorium, with a $1500 budget. Then things scaled down ... For what the
chair wanted, Smith-Gharet figured on a four-figure budget (several thousands
of dollars) plus x amount of transit time to get elaborate materials
plus a lot of specific Customs information. The chair was consistently late
in getting information to Smith-Gharet, and it was incomplete when it arrived.
Something was always wrong -- the space was too small for the mock spaceship
backdrop, the auditorium turned out to be 15 minutes' walk away (if you're
not in costume), etc., etc. The Guild never received Progress Report #3,
never received confirmation of their participation.
Of $1500 budgeted, the Guild received $200, after numerous assurances it
was in the mail, and a final statement that they were withdrawing. Finally
the master costumers in the guild bowed out when their deadlines weren't
The SCA, I learned much later, also had problems working with the chair
on their involvement. (For reasons necessary to them but unclear to convention
committees they require complimentary memberships; swordfight demos require
practiced water-bearers; all the things an autocrat would know but concoms
just don't get, apparently, in Vancouver.)
Sanctuary (The Relaxicon)
Sanctuary (V-Con 18.5), the limited-membership con, was held Feb. 15-17,
1991 at the Relax Plaza Hotel. The flyer (doubling as program book and pocket
program) listed Eileen Kernaghan as Relaxed Guest of Honour, Constantin
Hiebner as Relaxed Fan Guest of Honour, a 24-hour video room, one meeting
room for readings and other programming, pool party and two hospitality
This convention took a three-figure loss, largely (I think) because the
rooms were a bit too expensive for Vancouver-area fans. I can also say that
we were all surprised by new B.C. legislation in January of 1991 -- it became
illegal then to distribute liquor and receive money, even on a
basis, unless the man/woman behind the bar was a) a licensed bartender and
b) had up to a million dollars' liability insurance. So we had to forego
bar revenue in Hospitality and have the hotel serve liquor (which drew
from fans about the high prices for drinks).
At least, this was the story the chair relayed. Not two months after Westercon,
I was told this was nonsense -- you could still get a conditional liquor
license for a $35 fee.
On Wimping Out
Much later, I found out that two members of the Westercon committee
attempted to bring the problems with the chair to the attention of WCSFCCA.
In this context it is worthwhile to look at the WCSFCCA constitution and
bylaws, which were in place from 1981. A key provision in the WCSFCCA bylaws
was that regular financial reports from a V-Con committee were to be made
to WCSFCCA executives; another was that, if the committee's performance
did not measure up, WCSFCCA could step in, remove them from their positions
and take over. However, as Al Betz once explained to me, by the late 70's
an idea was going around that the WCSFCCA organizers were trying to take
over V-Cons; in fact WCSFCCA executives went to some effort to avoid the
appearance of imposing control on V-Cons.
I emphasize the foregoing because, when asked for help getting control over
the Westercon chair -- or getting a replacement -- WCSFCCA president Al
Betz replied that wasn't his responsibility, or words to that effect.
"... You Killed My Weekend. Prepare to Die"
Westercon 44/V-Con 19 was held, as advertised, in July at U.B.C. By many
accounts it was a fun con to attend; fans and writers alike made a lot of
But, also by many accounts, this event was troublesome for dealers, costumers,
artists and program participants, and the program participants and committee
are still trading horror stories. Volunteers were at a premium, and were
not well treated. One story I heard is how, after some volunteers had served
stretches of up to 24 hours and had flaked out in the Green Room, the chair
descended upon them screaming they should get up and do something, what
right had they to be lying around, or words to that effect.
Much later, I learned that the chair had taken over about 27 of the 36
and was trying to manage all that personally.
A hoax version of the daily convention zine tells its own story:
Opening Night Jitters
"Help us," read Patrick Nielsen Hayden's handmade sign,
flashed at the audience. The audience already had been sitting for thirty
minutes staring at the mute assembly of guests and committee. The guests
had sweated off five pounds waiting for the multimedia extravaganza to begin.
Throughout the room the technical staff scurried making last-minute
with all the precision of the Three Stooges stealing televisions from a
The six people sitting in the front row who could see the monitor really
enjoyed the special effects.
Meanwhile, William Gibson made notes toward a new book, about a dank, festering
world of data pirates who convince hundreds of people to buy expensive airfares
and room reservations to attend the setup of a VCR.
There was some disorganization of the program. It developed later that the
<U>only</U> up-to-date file containing the convention program
was on the chair's computer, whose hard disk crashed. No backups!
After Smith-Gharet had to bow out, some other members of costuming fandom
were enlisted to hold costuming workshops. Kate Smith of Vancouver tells
me that she had the chair's assurance the panels would be scheduled for
the afternoon (when she and her gang could be present). They arrived to
find they were supposed to hold their costuming workshop, not at 1 p.m.,
but that morning at 10. There were a number of last-minute changes like
this, partly due to the chair having crashed her hard drive.
An extraordinary number of people got free memberships -- program participants
and even guests of guests were labeled "Professional". This seems
to have led to a confusion of names; for a while some local fans thought
any program participant was a "professional". (Normally they are
designated "special guests" in the program book.)
I discovered that I could not be on site during the day either Thursday
or Monday -- couldn't get the time off work. When I could arrive, I found
that Gladys We had shouldered the whole burden of the daily con zine. I
found that the fanzine room had been <U>entirely unattended</U>
all day. Larry Baker had assured me that it would be manned. I found that
Kevin Standlee had put in some twenty hours of volunteer time on the site
selection in my absence. (This has worked wonders for his fan reputation,
but I still think I owe him a big karma debt.)
At the con the chair informed me that the site selection arrangements I
had made with the bids made no sense, and she had done them over herself.
Thus I no longer knew what the Seattle and Santa Clara bids thought was
The bids had table spaces half the size they'd been promised.
I was informed of only two of the three panels I was supposed to be on.
Both the Westercon meeting and the bid presentation, I was late for. After
the bid presentation, I discovered I was supposed to be
the bloody thing.
One criticism I heard is that this con was poor at coping with problems
once they surfaced. That sounds like the chair. Some criticisms make no
sense, like the choice of site. (The chair claims we were stuck with U.B.C.,
from the original bid advertising. I think it's a non-issue since the site
was consistently advertised from the beginning, and no-one breathed a word
against it until at and after the con.)
In an attempt to give some egoboo to her concom, the chair held a
party -- <U>at the con</U>, taking up one of the Hospitality
suites. People were not amused. About this same time, I was desperately
trying to find someone with keys, open up the Ops room and give Grant Duff
back the fanzines he had put on display in the fanzine room. In the middle
of this, the chair's son came along and roped me into this presentation
business the chair was holding in the committee party, giving people these
"I Gave My Body to Science Fiction at Westercon 44" T-shirts and
a cartoon by the ArtGoH.
Why didn't I kill the chair right then? I guess I just don't have it in
In conversation, David Berry remarked that it had been fourteen years since
the first Westercon was held in Vancouver and it would be a good fourteen
years before the next one. I believe I said that would be OK with me.
The fallout from this convention is interesting. The article in File
770 next spring is a good summing-up:
Red Ink Flows in the Humboldt Current
It later developed the Westercon debt went even higher, over $11,500.00.
(Our highest previous losses were on the order of $2,000, for V-Con 9, 11
or 12.) Subtracting the WCSFCCA savings, this still left us $5,500 to pay
up. BCSFA's balance, or cash flow, rarely exceeds three figures. It later
developed the site had <U>not</U> been paid in advance. It later
developed a part of the debt was those promotional trips the chair made.
"The average attendee of this summer's Vancouver Westercon thinks of
it as a pleasure-shrouded memory, if at all, but for many conrunning fans
in British Columbia it is a living nightmare. Westercon ended $11,500 in
the red ... Since the WCSFCCA started out with a $5,000 reserve, and raised
another $1,130 at an auction, the group must now raise nearly $6,000 to
finish paying for the party."
File 770:59 (Feb. 1992)
Morale in BCSFA took a nosedive ... if possible. At least one Westercon
volunteer swore off convention involvement entirely. A number of faces
from BCSFA, and for over a year I saw no membership recruitment. (Me, I
was ranting and raving and depressed and kicking over fire hydrants and
talking about pricing hit men and not being very good company at all, for
the next three or four years. People tell me I'm a lot better off on my
The chair made a number of comments -- in the issue of BCSFAzine enclosed
in the members' package -- that are worth examining.
"Chairing Westercon and facing V-Con has made me think
long and hard about the whole notion of volunteering to do what is
a business</U> (My emphasis -GS). One serious problem I have had
with Westercon is Attitude. For example, 'I'm a volunteer, I don't have
to work if I don't feel like it' or 'I have volunteered and so I can do
what I want and you can't tell me what to do', or 'This is good enough,
it's just for fans'. Then there are the passive aggressives who sign up
for things, and then drop out after the due date, tasks undone, leaving
someone -- usually me -- to pick up the pieces ... "
The chair chose this issue of BCSFAzine, which was enclosed with the rest
of the package given to Westercon members, to print these remarks and publish
"1) Being a volunteer means that one is doing work without
expectation of remuneration. Signing on as a volunteer for the purposes
of running a convention is a contract with all the members of the Convention
Committee. There shall be a job description signed by the department heads,
one copy kept by the member, and another given to the chair. Volunteers
to each department should also be given a job description and have it orally
verified that he or she will be able to do the job.
"2) All those who volunteer must be approved by majority vote by the
other members of the Convention Committee, including the executive who have
been previously approved by majority vote at the duly posted WCSFCCA
"3) Failure to complete an assigned task on time, or in the approved
manner, will automatically take that person off the Convention Committee.
If that person does this three times, that person is barred from future
convention committees and his or her name posted in the BCSFAzine.
"4) If a volunteer is unable to perform assigned tasks for legitimate
reasons, that person is required to report that state of affairs to the
chair as soon as possible, and assistance is rendered or the task is
"5) All reports must be in writing and submitted to the chair. The
secretary should collate all reports and minutes for a committeezine to
be distributed <U>prior</U> to the next meeting.
"6) The volunteer is a member of a team, and is not autonomous. All
tasks, assigned to, or initiated by the committee member, must be authorized
by the committee and/or the executive before being put into action. All
publicity must be proofread by the committee and/or the executive before
As Lisa Girling commented in BCSFAzine #219:
My experiences as a volunteer and as a member of the concom
have taught me that in a given group of volunteers, one quarter of them
are likely to jerk off, one or two will go on an "autonomous"
power trip, and the rest will work their tails off. And within the last
group, one or two will devote so much of themselves that it would seem like
witnessing a miracle.
The best way to continue to have fun with these people is to allow for their
foibles and hope like hell the building doesn't burn to the ground. The
ones who work the most effectively and the hardest, you provide with a towel
to wipe away the slobber of your gratitude.
COLDLY IGNORE THE REST.
Adding layers of bureaucratic nonsense and running a con as "essentially
a business" is not in the true spirit of fandom.
Once, at a management seminar for dentists and their personnel, I learned
the importance of turning people's needs into their wants. A lot of people
need to be involved, need to feel important, and need some semblance of
control over things.
If we can make volunteering desirable, "wantable", then we can
tap into their strengths and put them to their best use. When people volunteer
because some zealot is appealing to their sense of obligation because s/he
is feeling overworked, you don't get results. And neither does conscription,
which is what I feel her suggestions amount to.
Right off the bat with number one, the alienation begins. A volunteer should
be able to expect remuneration if only in the form of mountains of praise
and gratitude from the concom and fellow volunteers whose jobs become easier
the harder everyone works.
For crying out loud, we aren't talking vows for a holy order!
Written job descriptions are nice, but my experience has been that on or
around Thursday night of any con, everything gets randomized and it's more
advantageous to stay fluid rather than employing the shopworn phrase, "but
that's not my job."
We need lots and lots of volunteers (and a few more after that). Voting
on them is totally unrealistic. Imagine, things go wonky in the bar at 11:00
Saturday night and a fellow from Saskatoon breezes in from his late flight
and just happens to be a refrigerator repairman? "Sorry, we'll have
to take a vote." (?!)
Reporting an inability to perform tasks directly to the chair is reasonable,
but to decide whether it is legitimate? Excuse me?
The chair of Westercon 44 had proposed to hold V-Con 20 in May 1992, and
to hold it at the Sheraton in Burnaby. A lot of us thought this was a poor
idea, or at least said so much later. We had just gone through a period
where FRED (our weekly Friday get- together) was held at Champs' Pub,
in that Sheraton; we found it a noisy and not very welcome venue for us.
One or two people told me specifically that V-Con is popular for its season
<U>because it's cheap</U>, right after you pay off your taxes;
assuming that people will pay over $60 -- $75 per room night on the U.S.
Memorial weekend is just not on. (Others have since told me that this applies
more to Canadian fans than to Americans, who pay taxes earlier. Mixed
At a WCSFCCA meeting in fall 1991, the Westercon chair insisted the "six
points" be made mandatory for future V-Cons. When WCSFCCA declined,
the chair resigned from the chairmanship of V-Con 20 "on a point of
(We subsequently found out that Mike Bentley had failed to re- register
WCSFCCA in a timely fashion with the B.C. Registrar of Companies, so that
for a year Westercon had operated without the benefit of financial protection.
It was subsequently reorganized as WCSFA, the Western Canada SF Association,
to act as BCSFA's officially-registered face, and to oversee future
This was followed by Jackie Wilson's and Vickie Oates' bid to hold "V-Con
19.5" in May '92 at the Relax Plaza. Their avowed purpose was to hold
a cut-down, limited-membership con, supported entirely on its own income
-- and if it looked like it would take a loss, then it would fold and refund
the preregistrants. Con Hiebner acted as Treasurer. As a direct result,
this convention of less than 200 members raised a little over $900, which
went to service the debt.
Al Betz reported later in 1992 that a major portion of the Westercon debt
was settled in April by negotiation with U.B.C. and the A.M.S. After this,
WCSFA's material assets were repossessed by these parties, their suit for
unpaid bills was dropped, and approximately $2,500 remained to be paid.
(A sub rosa requirement was that the Westercon 44 chair not be part of future
In brief: We <U>knew</U> our chair was creating problems, and
none of us faced her down, challenged or replaced her. <U>I</U>
wasn't up to it; I failed in that duty myself. <U>We weren't prepared
to take responsibility for how our money and reputation was spent</U>.
That's what it comes to.
Of course, I know there were at least three other sources of trouble for
this Westercon. I just feel our chair was the largest and most active
We should have had a successful Westercon in all respects ...
we had had a few hundred more people attending; or <U>if</U>
we had restricted our spending; <U>if</U> we had signed a contract
a whole year earlier (our regular practice, I believe); <U>if</U>
we had had an entirely different chair, and <U>if</U> many other,
more experienced people had joined -- or stayed on -- the Westercon committee.
However, I conclude that's a few too many ifs. Cons are risks, there's always
a Murphy factor out there, and if you can't reduce the risk level then the
convention bid is just not on. Given the irreducible risk level
and Murphy factor associated with a con this big, I think we were foolish
not to question this whole proposition, very harshly, in 1988.
I think the ultimate responsibility rests with us. For myself, I chose not
to believe in my own judgment, from the outset. As a group, we knew damn
well better than to shut our eyes and hope for the best; we just chose not
to think, or take responsibility for ourselves.
To analyze at greater length ... I suspect that perambulating conventions
such as Westercon do not gain the advantage of an experienced local group
who will volunteer; that Westercon is one of the large cons which, thereby,
attract Space Cadets; that when it has been several years since a site hosted
such an event, you have to look hard at the local group of fans, and see
whether there has been an overturn in the membership and whether the bid
committee comprises <U>too many</U> new faces. And the chair
has to be held accountable.
Vancouver fandom suffers from an attitude which does not benefit their
This may, or may not, be unusual for a fan group; but rather too many people
abhor details, planning and analysis, and don't want to get overorganized
... and consequently, they resist getting organized <U>enough</U>.
This doesn't have to show up in non-performance on a convention committee.
It has shown up in our refusal to define what we do cons for, and how to
do them successfully. Up to 1987, there was <U>no</U> documentation
on how Vancouver fans normally ran their conventions!
Ed Beauregard also notes that <U>we do not have a generally agreed-
upon standard of responsibility in conrunning</U>. Several times,
individuals have gotten into positions (like convention chairmanship) who
... well, whose ways to mount an event just did not work, not at least with
BCSFAns' needs or abilities. I think that is now generally understood here.
In future, I suggest WCSFA require that prospective convention chairs in
Vancouver have a good deal more experience, both in attending conventions
(say, 5 years) and in working on them (say, 3 or more crucial positions
on different cons). And if personal difficulties are too great for the chair
to administer a bid for something, let it fold. I suggest that if it becomes
obviously, documentably difficult to work with a chair -- as evidenced by
a high rate of turnover on the concom -- then WCSFA should be obliged to
take action. If you can replace a chair a good year in advance, maybe the
con can proceed. We failed to do this.