How Fandom Brings People Together: An Interview with Norm Liddell of the USS Haven
When I lived in Florida, I was fortunate to run into a very sweet couple at a local Star Trek convention. Their names were Norm and Denise, and they were involved in a Star Trek club. The club was called the USS Haven, and it is composed of some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Norm basically runs the club, but he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t really consider himself “in charge.” He has always told the members that it is their club. His job “has always been to serve [the] Crew.”
Because the USS Haven is such a successful club, and because Norm is one of the neatest people I know, I knew I wanted to interview him for my blog. He’s attended about 100 conventions over the past 20 year or so. His wife has also created some downright amazing costumes for them both, which I wanted to be sure to show off.
Norm, thank you so much for doing this interview! Do you remember your first convention? Which one was it, and how long ago?
Norm: My first Star Trek Convention was TREK-FEST at the Holiday Inn on International Drive [in Orlando] in 1987. I had only recently become a fan during the early 80s. When Star Trek originally aired on the 60s I was in the Navy and deployed overseas, so I rarely, if ever, was able to watch any episodes. When my 65 year old aunt retired and moved to Florida in 1982 to stay with us, she and I always stayed up late after the 11 p.m. News and watch the Original Series reruns on ch 6. I become hooked quickly.
The guests at TREKFEST were Jonathan Frakes and Jimmy Doohan. I remember Jonathan Frakes talking about how he was hoping his new role as First Officer on 1701-d would lead to future acting parts and a career as a director, as a similar role did for Leonard Nimoy.
Jimmy Doohan, who had been a favorite character of mine in TOS, was full of humor and spoke with absolutely no Scottish dialect. I recall sitting in the refreshment area, enjoying a cup of coffee with a few other fans I had met that day, when he came by our table and stopped for an informal chat. His friendliness was remarkable. He expressed a sincere appreciation for us and applauded out interest in Star Trek.
About how many conventions have you attended in your life time, and how many do you usually do a year?
Norm: That is a tough question. Maybe 100 or so. Since I began in 1987 I tried not to miss any through 1993. Then I bought a house, got stuck with a mortgage, became convention-inactive, then later became divorced, until 1999 when I met my current wife, Denise. Denise is a serious Fan and has allowed me to “excess” a bit. With her by my side, I jumped into Fandom in much more depth than I ever had before. Nowadays, we attend about 7 or 8 Conventions each year. Some are Star Trek themed, others are Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, or related genres. Fan gatherings such as the Klingon Feast, and the Klingon Summer games are high on our list of favorites. In addition to Conventions, we also participate in parades locally and assist non-profit organizations 5 or 6 times each year with a variety of fund-raising activities.
What is your primary reason for attending conventions?
Norm: When I originally began attending conventions, celebrities were the main draw for me. However, mingling with so many other Fans over the years has brought us many many Friends from all over. These days, we look forward to sharing laughs and a few drinks with those old friends, chatting about our common experiences with Star Trek and related activities, and planning for future events.
When did you start attending conventions in costume?
Norm: Denise loaned me a Next Generation shirt in 1999 when we attended our first convention together in St. Petersburg. A few months later, at Orlando’s Christmas parade she handed me a multi-colored sport coat and a Ferengi headpiece and said “Here, try these on”. As we walked the parade route, I found the reaction of the crowd amazing. Since then, I always attend conventions and Fan activities in costume.
How many costumes do you have?
Norm: When I began costuming, I was focused specifically on my Ferengi character. I started to diversify more as time went on. About 2 years ago, I switched to a Klingon character. My goal has always been to use costume styles that were unique in Fandom. Very few fans were doing Ferengi, so it was easy to stand out. My Klingon costume is a retired civilian Chancellor, rather than a Warrior. Since most Klingon Fans do the Warrior thing, my approach remains unique.
I also have Stargate costumes, Cowboy outfits, and Pirate attire. I even put together a great Mr. Monopoly costume to help out with a local Monopoly tournament (which was canceled by a hurricane). With a closetful of pieces that can be mixed and matched I have enough variety to match almost any theme we are looking for. How many costumes does that give me?……At a guess, maybe 25 or 30 and still growing, although our closets are running out of room.
Do you have a favorite costume? What is it, and why is it your favorite?
Norm: My Klingon Chancellor costume is my favorite. It is modeled after Chancellor Gorkon’s character’s attire (ST: VI). Denise makes our costumes, and it is done in red and black vinyl cloth with lightweight material. It is easy to put on and take off, and comfortable to wear.
My other favorite costume has nothing to do with Star Trek or Science Fiction.It is my old-world style Father Christmas suit. This past December I had the opportunity to wear it, in character, greeting about 1500 children and their families at Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis, Florida. The time I spent with the children, the smiles we shared, the laughter, and the many magical moments with family members posing for photos, and sharing Christmas wishes were the most rewarding I have ever experienced. The staff invited me back next year and I will probably continue to assist them as long as they want me there.
What advice would you give to a fan who has never attended a convention before, but wants to start going to them?
Norm: Just go ahead and go. Don’t worry that you might not know anyone else. There will be many Fans there with you share common interests. Start talking to people while you are in lines or wandering through the dealers room. You will meet other fans, most will gracefully welcome you into their circle of friends.
Who is your favorite guest? Why?
Norm: Armin Shimmerman, Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Jimmy Doohan…..These are just a few of the stars who have always been gracious to their Fans, and strive to make any convention experience personal and memorable.
What impact has sharing your fandom had on your life?
Norm: Fandom, has brought me many new Friends. I have met some truly interesting people. Our Sc-Fi activities have also introduced me to many opportunities to assist people and children in need in our Community through our Costuming and educational efforts. Such activities have made me aware that Sci-Fi Fans can play a very important role in shaping the future by making folks aware of what might be possible.
Thanks again, Norm! It is amazing how inclusive and wonderful fandom is, and your story is such a great example of that!
About the USS Haven: The club has about 40 active members throughout Central Florida. The club is also aligned with most Star Trek and sci-fi clubs throughout the state, and has forged friendships with groups nationally, and as far away as Australia, England, and Germany. The club is also actively involved in community and charity work, namely Toys for Tots. For anyone in the Florida area, who would like to learn more about the USS Haven, you can check out their website, and their Yahoo.com group.