Last weekend, I attended my sixth Balticon as a panelist. In some ways, this year was even stranger than the completely virtual conventions of the past 2 years in that programming was a mix of in-person events at the usual hotel in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and virtual panels open to participants worldwide. Due to a minor communication snafu with the head of programming, most of my events were virtual, despite the fact that I live less than 30 minutes from the hotel! (I even commuted to an office two blocks away for almost 10 years.) So, I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked at the convention itself, but I did get to hug a few people I’d missed like crazy and meet a few others face-to-face for the first time.


For me, Balticon kicked off with a virtual panel on rating books in the algorithm age. My fan club president mother came over early, and I set her up in my office out of camera view. The main takeaway from this panel conversation is that rating and reviewing books is a personal experience, and no two people go about it the same way. This also means that there’s no wrong way to do it (unless you’re unfairly rating things you haven’t actually read). In our particular group of four panelists, I’m the most generous of the bunch regarding how many 5-star ratings I give out, and I’m fine with that. After all, authors don’t need any help to NOT sell their books.

Afterward, Mom and I hopped in the car and headed into the city. We checked in to the convention and shared a lovely dinner together, then it was time for my author reading!

Author JL Gribble reading from Steel Justice at Balticon 56 with a copy of Steel Victory displayed on the table.
For yet another convention, no one in the audience has noticed the text on my water bottle.

My final event of the evening was another panel, this time on adding magic to alternate history stories. We had a lively discussion that boiled down to how doing a ton of extra world-building and research is always worth it to tell the story you want to tell.

From left to right: Michelle D. Sonnier, J.L. Gribble, P. Djeli Clark, Jean Marie Ward, Tom Doyle

I came home after 10 PM to find an email containing my advanced review copy (ARC) of the next book in a series that I adore. I meant to read until midnight or so. At around 2:30 AM, I figured I might as well finish the book (which wasn’t until about 4 AM). I regret nothing.


Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. The spouse woke me up with coffee a little after 10 AM, then we did our usual Saturday morning lounge routine. I headed back to the city in the early afternoon for a live panel on adding love stories to genre fiction. This was another enthusiastic discussion on what makes a book deserve the romance title versus when a story just includes a romantic subplot. We also talked about the elements necessary to romance (yes, even sex), but we all decided in the end that characters should be people first. A messy romance will always be more interesting than a contrived one.

That panel was the last of my in-person events for the weekend, and I wasn’t keen on spending $30 on parking for the other 2 days. I made a final circuit of the dealer’s room, handed out some more hugs, and headed home for the night. (Where the spouse promptly dragged me out for dinner and ice cream with friends, despite how I was starting to crash hard from the lack of sleep.)


At this point, I had not done any prep for the other two panels I needed to moderate, so it was with a sigh of relief to find that I’d gotten my schedule mixed up when I woke up on Sunday. I only had to participate in that morning’s virtual panel on how online fan communities have evolved over the years. It’s fascinating how different generations and those in different countries have experienced such different journeys through fandom. I consider myself lucky to have had the experiences I did, when I did, since they directly influenced my own evolution as a writer.

A much-needed nap followed, then dinner and time by the fire pit with a friend who’d just returned from a multi-week work trip (which the spouse was supposed to go on, but unfortunately missed).


Balticon is always a marathon convention, since it extends into the Memorial Day holiday. I spent the morning moderating two virtual panels. For the genre as “literature” discussion, we talked about how both of those terms are marketing labels and/or assigned by academic gatekeepers. We pointed out how most literature started out as popular fiction in its own day, discussed what contemporary works might be elevated to literary status in the future, and wondered whether the advent of independent publishing will affect gatekeeping at all.

My final panel focused on trauma specifically in the Marvel television properties. Our discussion on physical, mental, and generational trauma centered primarily on the Disney+ shows of the past year, but we did also touch on the Netflix Defenders shows and the very, very strange show that was Legion.

I finished out the weekend at a barbecue with family and friends, then enjoyed a much-needed day off from work on Tuesday. I already look forward to next year’s convention.

I didn’t spend much money this year, mostly because the two pieces at the art show that called to me already had bids, so I couldn’t snatch them up in a quick sale. In the dealer’s room, I was unable to resist this sticker that combines two of the spouse’s major loves.

Balticon 56 convention badge for J.L. Gribble and a decal sticker of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance symbol filled with the Maryland flag pattern

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