WorldCon Report

WorldCon Badge

This is my badge from WorldCon 71 / LonestarCon 3 in San Antonio, TX, August 29 – September 2, 2013.

I know, I know. WorldCon was, like, a month and a half ago, and here I am just now posting about it. Frankly, it’s because I’ve been unsure what to say. I’m a little conflicted.

On the whole, the experience was awesome. It was much more enjoyable on several levels than my usual alternative, which was Dragon*Con, here in Atlanta, GA. I mean, any person you randomly meet at WorldCon is most likely a writer, whether published (self- or traditionally) or aspiring. And that’s just neat. :)

Now, don’t get me wrong: Dragon*Con is awesome and enjoyable for what it is.

<digression>And what is it? A media con. Meaning that the most important things at Dragon*Con are the TV and movie stars who come to be adored and sign autographs for money. Last I checked, there are thirty-one simultaneous tracks of programming running from 10 am to midnight or later on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the con, and a half-day each on Sunday and Thursday. That’s a crapload of content. If you cannot find something to entertain you in all that, well . . . you’re probably at the wrong convention.

It’s also 50,000 people shoulder-to-shoulder in sweltering heat and stifling humidity1, all trying to get from point A to point B in the thirty minutes between events. (50,000 is a conservative estimate.)

Dragon*Con is a geek con. Pretty much everyone there is a geek about something, be it writing, Star Trek, Japanese anime, conspiracy theories, ghosts, skepticism, <insert TV show or movie name here>, <insert actor or actress name here>, roleplaying, gaming, costuming, et-freaking-cetera. Stop any random person at Dragon*Con and chances are high that they will get you.

That said, I am interested primarily in writing, but also podcasting and skeptical topics. The Skeptic, Podcasting, and Writing Tracks are three of the thirty-one tracks.

The writing track is held at the Hyatt. In the basement. Of the basement. Down a long hall. And then in another basement. Underneath and between the two main towers. In a total of about ten rooms.2 A lot of the content is geared toward first-time writers. A lot of the rest of it is . . . how shall I phrase this? “Repetitive.” As in, it’s the same writers in the same panels in the same rooms as last year. And the year before. And the year before.

I’ve enjoyed Dragon*Con since 2007, when I went for the first time. But each year, it seemed like something was missing. I found myself . . . wanting something that they weren’t providing. (See “wrong convention” above.)</digression>

WorldCon, on the other hand, was eighteen simultaneous tracks over the same four days. All. About. Writing. Yes, much of it was geared toward beginning writers. And a good bit of it was hero-worship. Of writers. With less than 1/10th of the attendance of Dragon*Con.

In other words, it is a writers’ con. A readers’ con. A publishers’ con. An agents’ con. It’s where the creators and producers go to meet and mingle.

And that’s partly why I’m conflicted.

Seven members of my local writers’ group went on the trip. Three of my Viable Paradise classmates were also in attendance. I hung out with each of them a little. And while I was with them, I mingled and chatted. I talked with other writers. I met people like David Marusek and Lawrence Schoen and Vylar Kaftan. Reconnected briefly with VP instructors Elizabeth Bear, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, and Steven Brust. I got a guest sticker for the SFWA suite through one of my VP friends and was able to hang around in the room with writers whose names most people reading this would recognize. I went to the Codex breakfast and met a couple of people there.

Common wisdom is that WorldCon is really two cons going on at the same time and place. There’s the con everyone sees — the one in the program; the one that’s scheduled — and the one that happens in between the panels and the readings. And it’s the second one that really matters.

And it’s that second one that I feel like I mostly missed out on.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t miss it for lack of desire or trying. I did go to several parties, including the Tor party, at which were a number of well-known writers, none of whom I actually spoke to because it was crowded and they were surrounded by many, many people.

But outside doing stuff with people I already knew? Outside that, I felt like an outsider. Now, once again, I must stress this: this is just me. This has nothing to do with the other people there, every single one of whom I talked to was unbelievably welcoming, warm, and friendly.

I think it’s Impostor Syndrome, which I’ve spoken about before. I’m using it here in a more literal sense. I felt like everyone else there deserved to be where they were, but I was a pretender. Especially in the SFWA suite, where, although I had a guest sticker, I felt like every single published author who came into the room took one look at me and thought, “Wannabe. What’s he doing in here?”

Silly, isn’t it? It literally could not be farther from the truth. Everyone I spoke to was, as I said, warm, friendly, and welcoming. Whatever feelings of inadequacy I had are entirely in my own head. But knowing this and believing it are . . . different things. :)

I have found that if other people approach me, I’m fine. If someone comes up to me and starts a conversation, I’m much more relaxed about it. It’s basically how I know almost everyone I know — because they initiated the contact, or we were thrown into a situation where contact was facilitated.

I want to get over this. I need to get over this. I would love to walk up to Jim Butcher or Kat Richardson or Ilona Andrews3 at a party and say, “Hi, I’m Gary Henderson, and I really love your books and I want to be you when I grow up,” (OK, maybe not that last part . . .) and have it continue beyond that without that awkward, “OK, now what do I say?” moment. Or to strike up a conversation with someone random and just get to know them.

In effect, I am an introvert desperately wishing he could be an extrovert and not knowing how to go about it. :) Is that even something you can change?

WorldCon was awesome. But it was also very frustrating. Not because of anyone else, but because of me. I felt like everyone else there made contacts and got to know people and had a better experience than I did. And I know it’s no one’s fault but mine, and that’s another layer of the frustration. (Frustration, it turns out, is like an onion. Who knew?)

So that’s pretty much why I haven’t talked about it, yet, in a nutshell (onions and now nuts; my frustration is tasty, at least). Because saying, “Yeah, it was great!” is both true and misleading. Saying, “I had a lot of fun!” is an honest answer and a white lie at the same time.

So I guess I have a personal goal for 2014, don’t I?

And all of that being said, I had the most fun of the con hanging out with the people I went with, playing Cards Against Humanity for several hours in the food court of the mall. Having dinner at the rotating Chart House Restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas. Having breakfast in an un-air-conditioned little hole-in-the-wall restaurant (The Oasis Café) a few blocks from the hotel. Or in the mall at the IHOP. Or at the horrendously overpriced hotel restaurant buffet. At the Hugos, clapping and cheering like mad when the winners were announced.

And that’s the unvarnished, unqualified truth.

And at Dragon*Con, I always have the most fun hanging out with people I know.

And when I got together with friends at the Romance Writers of America conference4 in Atlanta a couple of months ago, that was the whole point, as well.

Is there an extrovert pill? <goes looking> :)

  1. This is the point where a lot of people would make some snarky comment about the ha-ha unwashed stupid geeks who ha-ha are so socially inept, they don’t ha-ha know that they have to take showers! Well, to those people, I say, “Shove it.” Dragon*Con is no smellier than any other unbelievably hot, humid place in summer where 50,000+ people are packed like sardines. So get over it. I have never been offended even once by anyone’s body odor at Dragon*Con. I have, however, been deeply offended by the constant harping on it by people who don’t know any better. Yes, this hits a nerve, why do you ask?
  2. You may be getting the impression that I’m suggesting that the Writing Track is being hidden away in a sub-sub-sub basement in windowless rooms in purpose, like it’s some sort of afterthought. I would never imply such a thing. Never.
  3. Ilona Andrews is a husband-and-wife duo who write as one person, but I didn’t know how to convey that without a footnote, which, hey, look! :)
  4. Just to clarify, I did not attend the conference, but visited the venue for the purpose of reconnecting with some Viable Paradise friends. And there’s nothing wrong with attending the RWA conference; I’m just not a romance writer and would have felt very out of place, indeed.

After the Crash, by Stuart Jaffe

After the Crash, by Stuart Jaffe

If I were ten years old and in the fifth grade, I would no doubt stand in front of the class, stiff and nervous, as I recited my paper. “What I did on my summer vacation, by Gary Henderson, age 10.” And then I would launch into an over-vivid description (lot of juicy adverbs and adjectives) of my family’s epic road trip from rural Alabama to the bustling metropolis of Cucamonga, California, where my uncle and aunt lived. How our dog vomited every time we went under an overpass or she saw a headlight. How we stopped at every possible roadside attraction along the entire 4300-mile-long round trip.

But I’m not ten, I’m 38-teen. And although that would no doubt make a very good story (minus all the adverbs and adjectives and dog vomit), this post is about what I did on my recent summer vacation. I drove myself. I did not stop at every cheesy roadside attraction on the way. And there was no dog vomit.

For which, I can assure you, I am eternally grateful. I mean, have you ever ridden in the back of a car with a dog who threw up every time she saw an overhead pass or a headlight for 4300 miles? Have you? Have you? It. Is. Not. Pretty. I’m pretty sure I still have PTSD. If I had a therapist, his or her bill would be —

But I digress.

Some time back in the spring, some writer friends and I decided we would go to LibertyCon in beautiful, downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. At, in fact, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Last year was the con’s 25th anniversary, and they had quite a line-up of big names in the science fiction community there to commemorate the occasion. This year, it was much more modest. A couple of known names and a bunch of people I didn’t know from Adam’s housecat (as the saying goes)1.

Check-in was uneventful, but I was somewhat surprised by the . . . lack of . . . size. I guess what I mean to say is this: I’m used to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, where there are 50,000 or so people crammed into five hotels for four days of fannish geekdom on 31+ programming tracks. Or TAM in Las Vegas, where there are typically 1200 to 1500 skeptics crammed into a large convention center for four days of fannish geekdom (just of very different things, and with gambling, James Randi, and Penn & Teller).

LibertyCon is about 500 people. Five programming tracks (five rooms). And my own, personal observation is that most of the con-goers were . . . of a certain age. Now, don’t get me wrong: we older geeks like our all-night, wild parties, too. We just need Maalox, more sleep, and a little help getting out of bed the next afternoon.

To digress for a moment more, check-in may have been uneventful, but I had to go into the hotel and ask because I had no clue where I was supposed to be. So I asked the nice lady at the desk, “I’m here for LibertyCon, and I have no idea where I’m supposed to go. Can you point me in the right direction?”

She says, “Which specific panel are you here for, sir?”

Nonplussed, I said, “Huh?” (I’m a master of repartee.)

“There are a lot of events at the same time. If you’ll tell me which specific one you’re looking for . . .”

She handed me a schedule for the con, where each of the scheduled panels was listed by day, time, and location. I pointed randomly at one of them that started at 3:00pm, which was about four minutes hence. She then pointed me toward a low building nestled between the parking deck where I had parked, and something else.

I walked over . . . and discovered that the entire con was that tiny annex. All the rooms on the schedule? Yeah, they were adjacent. All five of them. Registration was in the hallway that all the rooms opened off of.

I’m going to pause, here, for a moment, just to let that fully sink in. And contemplate the question asked by the lady at the desk.

[Jeopardy theme plays]

[The Syncopated Clock by Percy Faith plays]

So, long story short, I met up with my friends who were already there, we went to a couple of panels, and then we were hungry, so we went for food. And then we went back for a few more panels, and then we were tired, so we drove to the place we were staying. Which was an apartment in a town about 30 miles west of Chattanooga called South Pittsburg, which is in the Central Time Zone. Chattanooga is in the Eastern Time Zone. It’s a very scenic drive, and one I recommend to anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. We had dinner and then talked until way too late, then slept.

Next day, we did it all over again, attending panels and at one point taking some time out to critique one of my friends’ novel, which we had all read a draft of.

We all decided that after this one panel that evening, we would leave for dinner. The panel was on YA writing, and one of the authors on that panel, Stuart Jaffe. was having a lively conversation with one of my friends, and we found out it was Stuart’s birthday. We asked him to join us for dinner and continue the conversation. We walked down to the same restaurant we’d had lunch at the day before, and discovered that the woman who had just entered before us — and for whom we held the door! — had a party of 20, and that killed that plan. We tried one other place . . . and then realized it was Saturday night in downtown Chattanooga. So . . . we decided to have dinner and play Cards Against Humanity back in South Pittsburg.

As I said, about a half-hour away.

Stuart was game and got in the car with seven strangers. (Well, technically two strangers; we had three cars. But the point stands.)

We had a nice Italian dinner at Stevarino’s Italian Eatery, then played Cards Against Humanity until 2 AM, at which point we were out of cards, so Stuart was taken back to Chattanooga Choo-Choo, and we got a good night’s sleep. And if, by some weird chance, one of Stuart’s upcoming novels features an author being kidnapped by seven strangers at a con . . . well, we won’t be overly surprised. :)

The next day, we only went to the con to get some of Stuart’s books, signed — with bawdy Cards Against Humanity references! — and then all separately made our way back south to Atlanta.

It was an enjoyable trip, even if the con was a lot smaller than I expected. We made a new friend, got some books to read, and had a lot of fun. All pluses.

I’m also now listening to Stuart’s podcast The Eclectic Review, which is fun, and will be reading his books as soon as I’m done reading some of the ones I’m currently reading.

. . . and that’s how I spent my summer vacation. [Bows theatrically, accompanied by light, sporadic applause; sits back at desk to listen to the next classmate.]


Group Blogging Exchange 2

Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 112 prompt: Vacation.

  1. On the Internet, no one knows you’re Adam’s housecat. Unless you don’t have a navel. Or something.

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