So, my name is Derek Spraker and my first convention was ChattaCon VI... I was nine years old, and I didn't miss one for about fifteen years or so. I've been on staff at every LibertyCon, and met my wife at number Four in 1990. She was three when she attended her first convention. At one time I was related to five of the seven LibertyCon board members through blood and/or marriage, and have so many collected Con badges from all over the southeast that I ran out of space for them long ago.
Why do I bring all of this up? It's pretty simple... for as long as I can remember I've been a member of the 'Southern Fandom Family' (Even if it has usually been as "Sandy's Son" or "Brandy's Husband"). The parts of a convention are so familiar that I usually feel like I'm missing something when I'm at home, and when I watch a 'geek show' I can usually put a real life name to each character.
But a few years ago Brandy and I attended a convention where we didn't know anyone whatsoever. We still had a good time, but it was so odd being completely cut off from our 'extended family' that it got us wondering what LibertyCon would be like for any of the new attendees that we've been getting so many of recently. (And especially for those attendees who have never been to a convention before).
For new attendees to LibertyCon, we'd like to say "Welcome aboard!" (Hey, we're at the Choo-Choo after all)
You probably know by now that LibertyCon is a convention that prides itself on great guests, phenomenal panels, a killer ConSuite and our 'Family Friendly Atmosphere'. We're a convention that is small on purpose (we limit the attendees to 750, which is actually set in stone in our Charter) since we want to give the fans a chance to sit down and chat with the guests. Sure we could try to bring in twice the attendees, but do you think you'd be able to sit on a couch with Terry Brooks talking about law or playing Magic the Gathering with Brandon Sanderson if we did?
If you feel like you don't know anyone, don't worry. Strike up a conversation, attend the panels and hop in with a comment or question. Or if you really want to get to know people quick offer to help out. Believe me, a few hours working in the ConSuite will let you meet up with more people than you'll be able to remember. The conventions aren't the real world... believe me when I say that you've probably never met a more accepting group of people than the members of Southern Fandom.
Liberty can probably be a bit strange to first timers because we tend to be a pretty close knit group. But that's the way it is in the South. The first time you're a new friend, the second a better friend... and before you know it you're a member of the family too. (don't worry though, we won't ask for rides or to help with babysitting. Well, usually not)
For those attendees who are absolute first timers there can be a lot of things thrown around that they don't really understand. It's like a wierd code that gets thrown around between people 'in the know.' But to see if I can help, I'm going to break down the different bits of the convention and see if I can't explain them.
Fans/Attendees: Pretty self explanatory... they're you. You and the other people at the convention, and pretty much all of the paying Con attendees. (Including the staff, I might add. Every non-Guest pays to get into LibertyCon, including the Chairman. The staff is composed of people who not only paid to get in just like you, but also volunteer their time to run the thing) Btw, if you hear 'Fen' it's just a sort of pluralization of 'Fan'. You're a fan, but the group of you are 'Fen'. By way of comparison, the people who aren't convention goers are 'Mundanes'. And yes, they're usually avoided and slightly ridiculed... sort of like Muggles in Harry Potter.
You might hear the term "Black Shirts" used for staff. That's simply because the only "real" perk the volunteers get is the option of purchasing a LibertyCon T-Shirt in black. Everyone pays the same membership rate that all of the other attendees pays, including the Chairman and her website-writing lackey husband! But one thing about it, and not to repeat myself but joining staff is a great way to meet people at the convention. One year we had a new attendee fly in from New Zealand and volunteer that same year... by the end of the convention he had gotten to know half of the people at the con, and the other half knew him! If you think you might be interested, believe me that we can always use the help! You can sign up on our Volunteer Sign-Up form.
You can find a list of panels (as well as author book readings, concerts, and other special events) as well as the panelists involved in the Programming Schedule on the website, smartphone app and the little sheet of printed paper up at the Registration Desk.
LibertyCon runs several 'tracks' of programming at the same time (usually five or six!), so while you might not have an interest in what's going on in 'Room A' something down the hall might pique your curiosity a bit more.
The ConSuite is a great place to hang out and meet people since pretty much everyone tends to cycle through. (I mean really... it has the food!) They pretty much always need help in there, so it's also a great place to volunteer. (hint, hint..)
The second Gaming room is traditional Gaming. You can usually find a wide assortment of games running at any time, such as Steve Jackson Games (Munchkin, Chez Geek, etc), Magic the Gathering, and traditional pen and paper tabletop games. There's also Hearts and Spades galore if you prefer the old standbys. If you feel up to the challenge, there's our annual Spades Tournament... but be warned, it's not that pansy 'partner' Spades. This is Killer Cutthroat... it's not a matter of life and death, it's much more serious than that.
The Art Show is also the first step for our Auction and Charity Auction. If you don't want to buy a piece outright, you can bid on it. After a couple of bids the item is put into the voice aucton on Saturday night where you can duke it out with the other attendees to get a good price.
The Charity Auction is just that. Every piece is donated to the convention, and can range from books to artwork to 'Tuckerizations'. (A 'Tuckerization' is our name for when an author agrees to name a character after you in an upcoming book. The character may be major or minor, may live a good life or die a horribly tragic death... it's all up to the author) Be warned though, Tuckerizations are HIGHLY coveted and can go for a lot of money. But you and I know, we would all love to be able to say, "See that book? I'm in it."
Also a note about the Charity Auction. Anything you spend for the charity pieces is tax deductible. So go ahead and get that Tuckerization, and get a tax break next year.
The Huckster Room is also home to our autograph tables. We tend to have so many authors that it's a bit impractical to have a single autograph session, so instead we have set times that you can meet up and get your library pieces signed. Don't worry, the writers and times are clearly listed in the Programming Schedule. And we also have each author do at least a couple of signings, so if you want to go to that Unicorn panel feel free!
Also when you come down, be sure to bring a camera! The Choo-Choo is a very picturesque historic location, and it's not unusual for us to have weddings, baptisms (I'm looking at you, Patrick Vanner!) and other events going on in the gardens during the convention. Some are Fans, some are Mundanes... regardless, please be respectful to them as you go by wearing your "Legend of Zelda" t-shirt. (Or "Vote for Cthulhu" in my case)
Speaking of the Choo-Choo hotel, parking is free for hotel guests... regardless of what it says on their website, it's part of our convention deal with them. However it's not necessarily free for non-guests, so if you're staying at another location be sure to check into the free shuttle service that CARTA provides for downtown Chattanooga. Shuttles run approximately every fifteen minutes, and the Choo-Choo is the beginning/ending terminal for the shuttle line. You can find out more information about the CARTA shuttle service at DowntownChattanooga.org.
The Choo-Choo can be a confusing place the first time you visit, but don't worry. We have "You Are Here" maps located at spots throughout the facility, as well as a map on our mobile app and on the back of the Program Book. Also, when in doubt go to the Conference Center across from the hotel's main lobby. The Conference Center hosts the majority of our function space, including Registration, the Art Show, Huckster Room, and several of our Programming rooms. Lastly if you're having problems finding your way around, ask anyone with a LibertyCon badge! Unless they have a purple "First Timer" ribbon they can probably point you in the right direction, and considering that we have some of the friendliest attendees on the planet they probably won't think twice about it.
That should about wrap it up. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for changes/additions/etc feel free to shoot me a message! All of this is second first nature to me, so I might not think of things that you might have questions about. I've gotten quite a bit of positive feedback about this article over the years, and want to keep it updated as new things come up.
Thanks for reading, and here's to seeing you at LibertyCon!