About the Ring of Fire Convention

by Eric Flint

In 2003, three years after the founding novel of the Ring of Fire series (1632) was published, the fans of the series decided to hold a get-together at the town of Mannington, West Virginia. The site was chosen because Mannington was the town I used as the model for Grantville and the fictional town is very closely based on the real one. (The only major differences are that the power plant which in the real world is located near the town of Grant Town about ten miles away was moved close enough to be within the six mile diameter Ring, and the size of the population was expanded to 3,500.)

While the group spent several days visiting Mannington, we actually spent the nights at the Holiday Inn located in Fairmont, the much larger town (pop. 18,000 or so) which is the county seat of Marion County. That’s because Mannington is too small to have a motel.

We decided to continue having annual gatherings, which in those days we simply called “the minicon.” (Modesty being a virtue for everyone except marketing specialists, pretty much all of whom are destined to spend the afterlife in Dante’s eighth level of Hell along with panderers, seducers, flatterers and sorcerers.)
We held the gatherings in Mannington for the next three years, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The following year we decided not to return to Mannington. It’s a great little town, but the truth is there are only so many days you can spend sight-seeing in a town with a population of 2,000, even including the surrounding countryside. Paris or London, it is not. What we did instead was find an existing science fiction convention that was willing to host our own gathering as part of it. That saved us the labor of organizing a convention ourselves, and in exchange our host convention got some more people attending it.

In 2007, our host was Conestoga, an SF convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma which (sadly) is no longer in operation. That same year, we also held a gathering in Germany, meeting up with several of the European fans of the series—of whom there were quite a few by then, since several more novels in the series had been published, a couple of which (1634: The Galileo Affair and 1634: The Baltic War) had made the New York times bestseller list. We visited several sites in Thuringia which feature prominently in the series, located what we think marks the exact center of the Ring of Fire, and also spent a day in Magdeburg.
In 2008, we were hosted by Albacon in Albany, New York. In the years that followed, we moved around the country, holding what we still called “the minicon” in conventions of various size, including DragonCon in 2011 and WorldCon in Chicago in 2012.

This year, we were scheduled to be hosted by NASFIC in Columbus, Ohio, but… the pandemic came along. I suspect the ghosts of the many real historical figures whom we’ve incorporated into the Ring of Fire series are taking their revenge. They were quite accustomed to epidemics and pandemics.
NASFIC had no choice but to cancel. We did play a small part in the virtual convention that was held in its place, but it was obviously no substitute for what we were accustomed to. So, after talking it over, we decided instead to hold our own convention instead, which we would organize and host ourselves.
Problems are usually opportunities as well, and there are some advantages as well as disadvantages to doing something virtually. Using electrons instead of molecules, is the way I think of it. One of the advantages is that we could hold a convention that went beyond a simple focus on the Ring of Fire series. Instead, we invited a number of guests who have either no relationship to the series or a limited one, and we expanded to four tracks instead of the single one we had used in times past.

Will we do it again? I don’t know yet. For the most part, of course, that will depend on what happens with the pandemic. To some degree, it will depend on how well this convention goes and whatever lessons we draw from it.

Yes, a virtual convention has advantages—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. It’s trickier that it looks, not to mention a lot more expensive than you might think. Granted, it’s nowhere nearly as expensive as a molecular con, especially for people attending. But as the saying goes, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. And that goes for labor time even more than money. The one huge advantage to a traditional convention is that all the damn molecules have assembled themselves in one place and ONE TIME ZONE and you can just give them their marching orders. “You are in a panel in Constitution Room at 2:00 PM.” Thazzit.

That said, I think we’ve put together one hell of a good convention and I hope you all enjoy it. And I can now in good conscience and with no fear of the afterlife (over this issue, anyway) stop calling it a “minicon.”

October 4, 2020

Eric Flint

Eric Flint

Author, Publisher