jimvanpelt (jimvanpelt) wrote,

Why I Go to Conventions

Okay, I’ve been attending conventions since 1996.  I’ve sat in on numerous panels, spoken as a panelist, moderated, schmoozed in the bar, gone to parties, and pretty much collected enough lanyards and name badges to identify a fair crowd of conventioneers if I decided to host my own gathering.

So, why keep going?

Yesterday was the first day of MileHiCon in Denver.  In ’96, it was the second convention I’d ever gone to after my first convention, which was WorldCon in Anaheim.  Whew!  At that time everything was brand new and shiny.  The dealers’ room alone staggered me with its stunning display of nerdgasm-producing goods for sale.

But by now I’ve seen all the t-shirt/button/toy/book/jewelry/memorabilia dealers, and every panel topic is one I’ve heard before (with speakers I’ve heard before).  So, once again, why keep going?

First, conventions are about entering the alternate universe next door to the “normal” one.  When my son and I got on the elevator at the hotel, we joined three guys who had several bins full of stuff on a hotel dolly.  Clearly they were setting up a display of some sort.  One of them, a short, plump fellow, said as we entered the elevator, “I’ll bet you think I’m short.  But really, I’m quite tall for my species.  What species might that be you could ask?  I’m a hobbit.”  And then he sang for us as the elevator made its slow, laborious descent to the hotel lobby.

I was thinking that our singer was one convention short of a regimen of psychotropics.  My son, however, said as we walked away, “Dad, we have found our tribe.”

Second, I learn stuff about being a professional.

Between 5:00 and midnight, when we left, I met Cherie Priest, the author of Boneshaker and other very interesting books, who told me a bunch about what it’s like to go from being a hard-working but relatively unknown writer to being a highly well-known writer (Boneshaker has generated some interest from Hollywood, which is very, very cool).  She also talked about how writing is a completely location-independent career, so she and her husband dumped their expensive, small Seattle home for a relatively huge, less expensive home in Tennessee. 

From here on in this report, I’m not going to name names, since I didn’t ask permission to tell any of these stories, so think of this entry as one of those old, small town newspapers who were very gossipy, but also didn’t name names, like when they’d say, “A certain unmarried LIBRARIAN was seen walking down Main Street holding hands with a distinguished but older ASSISTANT LUTHERAN MINISTER.  Surely wedding bells cannot be far behind.”

By the way, as an experiment for myself here, to hide gender, I will refer to the authors in the anecdotes as “they” or “them.”  I will, therefore, purposefully commit the grammatical error that I point out in student papers as “agreement,” where I will draw an accusatory arrow from the singular antecedent and the plural pronoun.

So, I talked to an author who has a series of books that are popular and looks like it could continue into the foreseeable future.  He/she said that they’d renegotiated the delivery date on the books so they could deliver them with four months more time each than the first books.  What this does is give them time to work on independently conceived projects, like books outside of the series, or short stories that are not ones promised to theme anthologies.  In other words, they talked about how being a successful writer can mean that you lose your freedom to pursue random, artistic impulses.  This was an insight I hadn’t known before.

I chatted to another author who talked about writing for a video game company.  She/he said that it was a miserable experience because the creative director really seemed to just want them to be a book doctor, and they wanted the writer’s name to give the project an imprimatur of legitimacy.  I had always thought that writing for a game company would be amazing.  Evidently, not always.

Another author, who is writing under more than one name, had to leave the convention early to get his/her daily writing done.  They’ve committed themselves to about 350,000 words of writing by June 1.  I learned that writing success comes with a price, and that the life of a working writer isn’t nearly as leisurely as that of a part-time writer, like myself.

I had drinks with four successful, working writers whose careers in some way or another are ones that I’d like to have.  What I got from all of them was, first, that they work their butts off to have the careers they have, and, second, that they are bright like shining seas.  Let me repeat that, because I think it’s important: THEY ARE BRIGHT LIKE SHINING SEAS..

I love that they are my friends, but most of the time I can’t figure out why they let me hang out with them.  They make me feel like god gifted me with a blue-light-special brain that suffered some damage in shipping.  They’re quick, passionate, opinionated, witty, and amazing.  What I learned from that is them when I’m alone with my computer, through my plodding, meticulous process, I can fake a kind of smartness in my writing.  Thank goodness no one can see how the stories are made.  They only see the stories.

So, I go to conventions because hanging out with my tribe teaches me or reminds me of vital, important lessons that I can’t get any other way.

Wow!  Long post.

Tags: conventions
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