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.
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> :)
- 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?
- 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.
- 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! :)
- 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.
I’ve referenced my writing history before. How I’ve always wanted to be a writer. How I have had stories in my head since I was about 11. And how in 2008 I finally kicked myself into gear and started actually, you know . . . writing.
After I joined the Forum Writers in 2008 (followed shortly thereafter by a couple of other groups), I noticed that a writer I liked and respected both for her writing and her advocacy (more on this later) was having a writers workshop at Dragon*Con.
All you had to do was submit a short story or the first 3000 words of a novel and pay a small fee and you could get into Ann Crispin’s Beginning Writer Workshop. She would let in about 24 students, and there was a strict deadline so she and we could read the stories for critique.
I sent in a story I had first written in the mid-90s called “. . . And Promises to Keep.” It had been edited and edited and critiqued and edited some more, and I considered it my best work to date.
Thus I became one of the Dragon*Con 2008 Ann Crispin Beginning Writers Workshop students. I met 23 other writers, there, and a good many of us are still in touch. I’ve since met other people who were in one of her workshops in other years, and all of those people speak well of Ann and her workshop. I won’t say I got the best critique, but I did learn a lot and I heard some things my tender ears needed to hear.
Ann spent two full days of the con talking about the ins and outs of the craft of writing, the business end of writing, and telling us her own personal experiences. She referenced her work with Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware, laboring valiantly to protect writers from those who seek to exploit us.
We got to know her a little. I’ve been following her on social media during her lengthy fight with cancer. And then came this post from Facebook yesterday.
This is just devastating. I was in tears for a good while after reading it, as I am again while typing this.
But you know what really gets me? That even in this, what will most likely be her final Facebook entry, Ann is still encouraging aspiring writers. To finish. To get a good contract. And to watch out for unscrupulous jerks who take advantage of others.
I am . . . without words. I will merely say, Ann, you taught me a lot, and I enjoy your books, appreciate that you help other writers get better, and applaud your untiring efforts to protect your community from those who seek to prey on them.
Thank you for everything.