What Happens in Reno, Gets Blogged

Last week I went to the World Science Fiction Convention, aka WorldCon, in Reno, Nevada. Most cons are held each year at the same venue in the same city, but WorldCon moves to a new city each year. It’s a bit like the Olympics, in that groups from potential host cities put together bids, which are then voted on– except instead of athletes and sporting events and drug scandals, it’s writers and editors and panels and drinking.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that WorldCon has a higher-than-usual percentage of professionals, and there’s more of a focus on business and networking than at other cons. There’s a lot of fannish stuff going on as well, but WorldCon is one of the best cons for rubbing shoulders with professional writers and editors and talking one-on-one (or at least few-on-one) with the pros.

My own career is still in such early stages that I’m not sure how useful networking really is. I have a finished first draft of a novel that needs a lot of polishing before it has a prayer of getting anywhere, so I’m not really looking for an editor or an agent yet. And I don’t have professional short story sales under my belt, so it’s not like I can expect an anthology invite or anything. Instead, I’m playing the long game, hoping that contacts I make now might pay off in the months and years down the road. I’m also familiarizing myself with the names in the business, and the way the business works. And, above all, I’m hopefully making some friends along the way.

I’d say WorldCon was a rousing success in all those categories. I got to see some friends from previous cons, like Matt Rotundo and Mary Robinette Kowal (who won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story!), and I met plenty of new ones. I was particularly pleased to meet the Inkpunks, a collective of writers who I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time, and various friends of theirs, as well as Cassie Alexander, who deserves special mention for inviting me into the SFWA party. *ninja eyes* I also met several Seattle authors who I’d seen and heard at events back home, including Keffy Kehrli and Liz Argall.

So much happened, it’s tough to form a cohesive narrative, so I’ll hit a few high points:

Kaffeeklatsches. I hadn’t done kaffeeklatsches at previous cons, but these are small group discussions (usually limited to 9 people) with an author or editor, which last for an hour. It’s a way to have a more intimate conversation with industry professionals, or even your own personal heroes. At WorldCon, I had kaffeeklatsches with John Scalzi, Howard Tayler, Lev Grossman, and Jennifer Brozek— these were some of my favorite hours spent at the con.

World Jay Day. Jay Lake is an author who’s been fighting a multi-year battle with cancer, and right now is undergoing chemotherapy. Despite that, he came to WorldCon to host the Hugo Awards, and is all-around an awesome guy. Diana Sherman organized a bunch of people to gather in the Dealer’s Room on Friday wearing Hawaiian shirts, and give Jay a surprise show of support. It was pretty cool.

Meeting my heroes. I got to meet several of my personal literary heroes, most notably Howard Tayler, who writes and draws the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. I suppose it’s odd that a webcomic artist would be so influential on an aspiring author, but he is, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was through Howard that I found Writing Excuses. When I finally had the chance to talk to him one-on-one for a few seconds, I told him, I’ve been reading Schlock Mercenary for nine years, listening to Writing Excuses for three, and I have a 175,000 word fantasy novel that probably would not exist if it weren’t for you guys. My life has led all sorts of interesting places because of you, and I just wanted to say ‘thanks.’

In general, I tried to stay professional throughout the con. I didn’t geek out when I passed George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss in the hall; I didn’t squee with joy when I held Mary Robinette Kowal’s Hugo Award or frantically try to get someone take a picture of me with it. Meeting Howard was the closest I came to having a “fanboy moment”, and as I walked away, I definitely teared up.

Parties. Each night I spent a few hours surfing through the various room parties, clustered on the 15th and 16th floors of the Atlantis Hotel. Some parties were put on by fans, others by groups bidding for future WorldCons, and some by publishers. There was also a semi-exclusive lounge hosted by SFWA, which, as mentioned earlier, I got into thanks to awesome friends. My next career goal is to be able to get in to the SFWA suite at cons without help.

I won’t deny it: parties stress me out, especially when (as was frequently the case) I walk into a party without knowing anyone. My inner introvert goes into total brain-lockdown mode, and a very strong part of me just wants to find a corner and hide. But the evening parties provided some of my favorite moments of the con, including meeting and hanging out with the Inkpunks (okay, technically, that was at the bar, but it still counts); hanging out with Lev Grossman on Saturday night after he won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer; meeting Amy Sundberg, Patrick Swenson, and holy cow I could list names forever and still forget someone. Suffice it to say that everyone was totally, absolutely awesome.

The Masquerade. Costumes were not as prevalent at WorldCon as they are at many cons, but what costumes were there were extremely well done. Someday, at some con, I’ll get tired of Masquerades and stop attending them, but it was not this con.

I was seated well back, but the people immediately in front of me were short, and I was able to get some relatively good pictures without having to worry too much about people’s heads being in the way. The best-in-show winner was Torrey Stenmark, for her Avatar costume, which also won at Norwescon earlier this year.

The Hugo Awards. On Saturday night came the biggest event of WorldCon: The Hugo Awards. Given each year for the best works in the field, they’re sort of like the Oscars of Science Fiction. In every category in which I actually predicted a winner, I was right, however, my votes usually did not correspond with my predictions, and in the categories where I strongly supported one of the choices, pretty much none of them won. I don’t begrudge any of the winners their awards; they all deserved them, and nothing happened that I would decry as a travesty of literature or good taste. Too often, science fiction itself is decried as a travesty of literature and good taste– so forget that noise. Fandom is far more diverse than my particular corner of it, and I’m okay with that.

I suppose if I have one regret about WorldCon, it’s that everyone was so dang busy. There were so many people who I’d have to loved to chill with at the bar and shoot the breeze, but the con as a whole was far too crowded and busy for that. Plus, the two hotels of the con were far enough apart that travelling between them was not easy, and even each hotel on its own was so big that it was hard to find people. What the con really needed was a con bar, but alas, despite the presence of numerous bars amongst the two host hotel/casinos, a favorite never materialized.

Speaking of casinos, I managed to go through the whole con without so much as sticking a quarter in a slot machine. All the temptation for me was in the Dealer’s Room: I came home with far more books than I have room for, and I’m now having to improvise bookshelves out of every available surface in my tiny apartment. I haven’t actually had to stack books in the sink yet, but if I live here much longer, who knows what measures might need to be taken.

Now I have less than a week until Dragon*Con, and all the craziness starts all over again. Except even crazier, because well, it’s Dragon*Con.

It’s gonna be fun.

Dragon*Con Part 2: Networking for Nerds

In my previous post, I mentioned the two sides of Dragon*Con: on the one hand, there’s the uber-science fiction convention with a dealer’s room, hundreds of panels and discussions, art galleries, and all sorts of other craziness.  On the other hand, there’s the party.  Nerdy Gras, as it has become known.  But what they have in common is this: getting together and having a good time surrounded by your fellow geeks.  For four glorious days in Atlanta, weirdness is the norm.

And of course, there’s all sorts of weirdness.  Really, the only unifying theme is that all of it falls under the banner of what mainstream society might consider “geek”.  There’s sci-fi and fantasy geeks, gaming geeks, roleplay geeks, cosplay geeks, writing geeks, science geeks, computer geeks… you  get my point.  If you’re a geek and you’re at Dragon*Con, you are surrounded by your people.

As for me, I was hoping to get a chance to network with the writing crowd, much like I was able to do at NASFIC.  The chance to hobnob with successful writers, to hang out among people who embarked on this crazy dream and are actually doing it, is great.  Of course, Dragon*Con is a much different beast than NASFIC– larger, much more chaotic, and in general less conducive to actually meeting the panelists and guests.  Nevertheless, several authors and editors from NASFIC were coming to Dragon*Con, including Matt Rotundo, Gray Rinehart, and Mary Robinette Kowal.  Also coming: one of my favorite authors of all time, Brandon Sanderson. His books are great, but the main reason I’m such a big fan is a podcast called Writing Excuses, which he co-hosts with Dan Wells and Howard Tayler, and which I’ve raved about before.

I got to indulge my writing jones for the first time on Friday afternoon, when Brandon gave a reading from his new novel, Way of Kings… and then from his children’s series Alcatraz, and finally from a book called Scribbler that he’s working on for next year.  I mostly sat there in awe.  The man has released three large fantasy novels this year, and has plenty coming down the pipeline.  He is a MACHINE, and his writing is getting progressively better.  This is even more impressive because his work was dang good to start with.

A short while later, I attended Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading of her novel Shades of Milk and Honey.  Matt Rotundo and Gray Rinehart were there, so already it felt like a NASFIC reunion. After the reading ended, Mary was immediately caught up in various conversations, but I hung out, waiting for a chance to say hi. Around that time, I looked toward the back of the room and saw a man sitting by himself who looked vaguely familiar. I did a double-take, peered at his badge, and realized it was Dan Wells, co-host of previously-mentioned podcast Writing Excuses and phenomenal horror writer!

Feeling only a brief twinge of anxiety, I walked up and introduced myself, and proceeded to chat with him about Writing Excuses, his upcoming book (Mr. Monster, due out September 28th!), and even had the chance to ask him some questions about living as a writer. After a few minutes, the crowd had thinned enough that the only people still left in the room were Mary, Matt, and a few other professional writers who were all friends of Mary’s. Dan went up and join them, and I did so as well, even though, much like at NASFIC, I was feeling far too professionally unqualified to be standing there.

It was about 6:30 in the evening at that point, so talk turned to dinner. The introvert in me (which, let’s be honest, is the vast part of the brain) was screaming that it was time to head for the hills. In fact, almost every fiber of my being was twinging that I needed to leave, that it was awkward for me to be here, that this wasn’t my place.

But for possibly only the second time in my life (the first time being at NASFIC), I fought that urge. I didn’t blush and bow out. I stood my ground as introductions were made, and then as the group filtered out the door, I asked Matt, “mind if I tag along?”

He didn’t, of course. Every professional writer I’ve met has been extremely down-to-earth and friendly. Which was, how a short while later, I found myself having dinner at a table with Dan, Matt, and his wife. Mary was also in the group, as were Leanna Renee Hieber and Alethea Kontis, although thanks to the over-crowded restaurant they had to sit at a separate table. Later, after Leanna and Alethea had to leave, Mary joined us at our table for dessert, and so I sat between Dan, Mary, and Matt over a shared slice of cake, chatting about the con and quizzing them about what it’s like living out West (Dan lives in Utah, Mary lives in Portland, Matt lives in Omaha). Not only did I get a lot of useful information and make some new friends, I also– and I can’t really over-emphasize how important this is from a personal perspective– didn’t give into my introvert’s natural urge to flee at the first opportunity. I’m slowly coming to the realization that networking and talking with fellow writers and fellow geeks is really, really fun and I want to do it more. The long-delayed budding of a seed of extroversion? I suspect it has a long way to go. But it’s a start.

Part 3 here.

Also, I’ve finished uploading my Dragon*Con pictures. The full collection can be found here.