05 September 2012 ~ 7 Comments

“WorldCon 2012 Con Report” or “David Steffen Finds Fandom”

written by David Steffen

I’m beginning to write this article from the huge lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. It’s 10 o’clock Monday morning, the last day of WorldCon, which this year is Chicon 7. As I sit here and watch the escalators, ambushing familiar faces to sneak in some goodbyes, I am feeling very nostalgic about the weekend already.

This is the first big SF convention that I’ve ever been to, and the only one where I came with a large number of friends I’d known ahead of time. The only convention I’ve been to besides this has been MiniCon in the Twin Cities, which is a few hundred people, and although I’ve made some friends there, I didn’t know any of them ahead of time. Here at WorldCon there are literally dozens of people whom I have met in some respect, varying from casual acquaintances from forums, to editors who have considered my stories for their magazines, to close friends who I’ve been in continuous contact with for years. I tried to write down all the names of these people I’d met, and came up with at least 60, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some, with another dozen that I would’ve liked to meet but never quite got the chance.

I think I finally understand, to a much larger extent, what fandom is all about. The greatest thing about SF fandom is how welcoming it is to everyone. No matter what race, nationality, religion, sexuality, body type, no matter what, you are welcomed with open arms. I’ve always loved that, but previously–I don’t know exactly how to explain this–although I never felt unwelcome, I don’t think I ever felt like I was a PART of the group. I felt like I was being welcomed warmly into a group but not exactly part of the group. I think that everything about it was the way I have approached MiniCon attendance. I go to MiniCon during the day, show up at the first panel that I’m interested in and leave after the last panel I’m interested in. Since so much of the programming emphasizes panels, it seemed to me like panels were what it was about (despite others telling me that that wasn’t the point at all). And I would talk to people as the opportunity arose, but since I was so panel-focused, most of the time I spent was sitting listening to other people talk without a lot of opportunity for conversation with others. But now I’m realizing that the way that I have been approaching MiniCon is all wrong. Panels are good, but they’re not the point.

I can pinpoint the moment when this became real to me. One of the first panels I went to was “Short Story as Proving Ground” with some panelists that I’ve known online, Brad Torgersen, Vylar Kaftan, and others. I arrived late, and so I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone beforehand. After the panel, I met quite a few people that I’ve known online for a long time, shook some hands and was quite happy to be meeting them. But when I met Annie Bellet, who’s been a friend online for years, she didn’t go for a handshake, she immediately gave me a big hug. And moments later a similar greeting from another longtime friend, Laurie Gailunas. I really felt, at that moment, like these people aren’t just friends, aren’t just colleagues. These people are family, welcoming me with open arms. I realize that sounds corny. But that’s how it felt, and that feeling has persisted through the rest of the con. So, thanks Annie, Laurie, and thanks everyone else who has made me feel so welcome.

I’m not even sure where to get started with this con report.

Dude, you’re really only getting STARTED? You’ve written flash fiction stories that are shorter than that introduction.

Don’t pay attention to that italicized bit. That’s my internal critic. He’s just cranky from being ignored–I don’t know how he got out of the dungeon. Anyway, back to the topic of where to get started: I thought about splitting it up by day, but figured that would get a bit too dry of a “list” format that wouldn’t at all match how I feel about my first big con experience.

The People

There is no way that I can possibly list all of the people that I met this weekend, so I’m not even going to try. I will mention a few. I roomed with Donald Mead and Bryant Thomas Schmidt, both very nice guys. I was very excited to meet Annie Bellet, Hugo-nominated Brad Torgersen, Laurie Gailunas, and Alastair Mayer, who I’ve been in a writing group with for the last few years. There are so many others that I met that I know through various forums or publications, Brennan Harvey, Thomas Carpenter, Alex Kane, Laurie Tom, Dawn Bonnana, Christie Yant (who wrote my favorite story in years, the Three Feats of Agani), Nancy Fulda, Gio Clairval. Many others whose work I have enjoyed over the years, like Rajan Khanna, David D. Levine, Ferret Steinmetz. And I got an autograph from Mr. George R. R. Martin, while managing not to go too fanboy on him.

As I have been sitting here writing this article, others have come and gone around me. I have been sitting next to a woman for the last hour as I type away, and moments ago realized that the woman is LaShawn Wanak, whom I have had many a discussion about fiction on the Escape Artists forums over the last few years! Man this is a crazy place, to meet so many people I know digitally.

The Editors

Wait, wait, aren’t editors people? What kind of stupid categories are these, anyway?

I concede that editors are people. Many of them might even be entirely human. Not John Joseph Adams, clearly, because he regularly violates causality by sending rejections from his Lightspeed EVEN BEFORE the story has been sent to him and somehow he does this without unraveling spacetime. On top of that, no flesh and blood human being could possibly juggle all the anthologies that he puts together all at the same time. Regardless of his superhuman state, he seems to be a very nice guy, even though he’s rejected my stories more than any other editor on the planet.

Also met Gordon Van Gelder, who was one of the first editors I submitted to at Fantasy & Science Fiction. And Stanley Schmidt, the current editor of Analog who has seen all the SF stories I’ve written, as well as Trevor Quachri, who will soon be inundated by my stories in Stan’s stead. Jason Sizemore. And Mur Lafferty, who has the unique distinction in my mind of being the only magazine editor I’ve met who has bought a story from me (for Escape Pod).

It was fun meeting these people, whom I’ve corresponded with so often, if in only the most spare and businesslike way.

Those dulcet tones

What kind of stupid category is that? “Those dulcet tones”. Sheesh.

There was one very small category of people whom I was especially excited to meet.

Wait, wait, so you had a category called “The People” followed by two categories which are subsets of people. Your Software Engineer’s license is going to be revoked if anyone ever founds out–

Ah, that’s better. I found my handy dandy internal critic club that I’d left in my other pants, and put it to good use. He’s back in the dungeons where he belongs. Anyway…

So this very small category is but a category of two, podcast hosts who have been keeping me company in a unidirectional fashion on my daily commute. Mur Lafferty, editor and host of Escape Pod, and Kate Baker, host and narrator of the Clarkesworld podcast. I have talked to both of them before this convention. Mur has bought one of my stories. I’ve talked to Kate before, both as part of her work as a staff member of SFWA, and to share my Best of Clarkesworld lists. Corresponding with them via email was one thing, but easy enough to separate from the podcast because of the different medium. Talking to them in person, though, was very strange (in the best possible way). I have listened to both of them for SO many hours, I felt like I was talking to best friends of many years. They both have such beautiful reading voices.

It sort of reminded me of those times when I’ve gone to a play with incredibly good actors, and then greeted the actors afterward. Theater can establish such a perceived intimacy that it’s easy to feel like you know the person as a close friend, and so if I follow my instinct and greet them as a warm friend without thinking, it’s very confusing for both parties. I think in this case it was more so, because I have listened to them both for so many hours. I kept waiting for Kate to say “Let me tell you a story.”

It was really, really surreal, as if I talked to my iPod and it suddenly started responding to me. And, so far, I haven’t been served a restraining order, so at the very least I think I managed not to creep either of them out with one-sided over-familiarity.

The Parties

Every night, parties. Usually I don’t like parties much, but these are writer parties. Many familiar faces, and you can stand around and talk about writing. There’s not really anybody in real life that I talk to about writing without them getting bored after a few minutes, so this was a lot of fun. Tor and Baen both hosted big parties, but one of the highlights of the weekend was the “Pink and Blue” release party of Cat Rambo and Stina Leicht. Cat Rambo just released an anthology of her short stories titled “Near + Far” (she’s the pink) and Stina Leicht (she’s the blue) something as well, I think it was her book “Of Blood and Honey”. This was a highlight of the weekend, a good turnout with lots of people I wanted to meet.

Panels/Events

I’ll just list the ones I went to briefly, for anyone who’d like to know more than I said, ask in the comments.

Thursday

Opening Ceremonies–formatted like a late-night talk show with the entertaining John Scalzi as host, he interviewed all of the major guests of the con.
Mike Resnick Reading
Nancy Fulda Reading
The Short Story as Testing Ground–This was the first panel I went to that I’d mentioned previously, with Brad and Vylar as panelists. Good content, but especially exciting to meet a bunch of people after.

Friday

Mark J. Ferrari Reading–I’ve critiqued some book chapters of Mark’s upcoming book, was nice to meet him
George R. R. Martin Autograph Session–Got a copy of “Game of Thrones” autographed
John Joseph Adams Reading–Fiction reading of stories bought by JJA, including by Christie Yant and David D. Levine. Very enjoyable, especially Levine’s clever parody of Superman from a Lex Luthor point of view justifying his seemingly evil actions.
Filling the Magazines–Great panel of editors, Gordon Van Gelder, Stanley Schmidt, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow
Ferrett Steinmetz Reading–I think Ferrett’s really hit his stride lately, I like each story more and more.
Open Mic Reading–Ferrett inexplicably was scheduled for another 90 minute session and he opened it up for volunteers. I was very happy about this since I registered for the con much too late to be in any programming. So I read my favorite of my own work, the unpublished “Hungry Void”. I had a lot of trouble keeping my voice steady because that story always makes me want to cry.

Saturday

Codex Breakfast–Great fun to meet dozens from my favorite online writer’s forum
George R. R. Martin Interview
Effective Habits for Aspiring Authors–
A panel with Annie Bellet and Brad Torgersen
Critique Session–My sole programming commitment, Deirdre Saoirse Moen and I lead a critique session of 3 authors who signed up. A very enjoyable experience. I like critiquing anyway, was enjoyable to do this in person for a change.
Escape Pod Meetup–I showed up very late for this due to the critique session commitment, but was happy to find some people still hanging around. Met some great people involved in one of my favorite podcasts.

Sunday

The Future of Analog–Panel including Stanley Schmidt (editor until Friday), Trevor Quachri (editor after Friday), Brad Torgersen and Richard Lovett to discuss the editorial change and just generally the future of the magazine.
Podcasting 101–Okay, so I have little interest in starting a podcast (though I’d like to try some voice acting). I mostly went to hear Mur Lafferty and Kate Baker talk.
Neil Gaimain Theatre–One of four plays performed at this convention written by Neil Gaiman, this one a reimagining of the Snow White story with the stepmother as the hero and Snow White as a vampire. It feels entirely more real than the original story.

The Hugos

The Hugo award ceremony was a lot of fun. John Scalzi made a very entertaining host. This was an odd experience too, because it had a feel very much like the major award ceremonies you see on TV (but without the upstaging and with half the runtime), but I KNOW some of these people. I was particularly rooting for Brad Torgersen, Mur Lafferty, and Nancy Fulda to win in their respective categories. They didn’t, but I hope they’re not too disappointed about it–to be voted by fandom to be one of the top 5 favorite in any category is an amazing accomplishment.

I won’t list all the winners here, because those have been published for days. I was excited to see Jim C. Hines win for Best Fan Writer. If you haven’t read his blog posts about female and male poses on fantasy covers, you should–he actually reproduces all of the poses he discusses, to both thought-provoking points and comic effect. I was disappointed that the “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Community didn’t win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, because that category is always dominated by Dr. Who. Game of Thrones Season 1 on HBO won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, against a tough field. Ken Liu‘s “Paper Menagerie” for Best Short Story, a well deserved win, that story is so good.

Wrap Up

I’m wrapping this up in my office at home on Wednesday, having hopped a plane home on Monday and gone back to my engineering work yesterday. I still feel a bit disoriented, culture-shock I guess, at being back in my daily life instead of this brief but intense visit into the convention scene.

This has been a really great experience for me, which I’m having trouble finding just the right words to describe. I feel like I’ve found fandom, after never quite being able to see quite where or what it was, and when I finally got here someone had saved a seat for me. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome–even just the little things added up to a great experience.

7 Responses to ““WorldCon 2012 Con Report” or “David Steffen Finds Fandom””

  1. Laurie Gailunas 5 September 2012 at 5:39 pm Permalink

    Great post, David!! Like you, when we met and hugged, along with Annie and Brad and Alastair, I too felt like I’d come home to family. What a blast to spend five days talking about writing, books, writing, publishing, and more writing. With people who didn’t get bored!

  2. Shane 6 September 2012 at 11:08 am Permalink

    This was an interesting post. I have never been to a con, nor have I been a part of any kind of critique group. I lurk on forums, but I rarely engage. In fact, until last week, my writing was a secret even from my family!

    So I absolutely know what you mean when you say you never felt like part of the group.

    But like you said, it wasn’t because I didn’t feel unwelcome, it just never occurred to me that I would want to be part of it, or that it was worth the effort.

    Also, as a person who also listens to a lot of podcasts and reads a lot of forum and blog posts, I definitely understand the one-way-ness of it all. In fact, at the risk of sounding creepy myself, a David Steffen would be a person who I would be impressed to meet at a con!

    In an effort to increase my writing time, I dumped every writing blog that I followed, except for Whatever and Diabolical Plots. I really dig what you guys have going on over here. I’m not sure what it is exactly, maybe it just feels a little more accessible than reading a big name like Dean Wesley Smith or Dave Wolverton.

    And actually, despite not knowing me, you may have had a specific positive influence on my writing career! I found Diabolical Plots by lurking on the Writers of the Future forum. Your “best of” podcast lists led me to all the great audio short-fiction podcasts (I was already a big consumer of audio books and podcasts, but for some reason it never occurred to me to look for short fiction), and specifically to my favorite of them, the Drabblecast. And now I have a story held for a second round of consideration at the Drabblecast! So there you go.

    Anyway, good post and you’ve got me thinking maybe I should get more involved in fandom / writer’s groups after all.

  3. David Steffen 6 September 2012 at 1:35 pm Permalink

    Laurie, yes, exactly! I’ve had a million and a half conversations about writing online in various places, but very rarely in person.

  4. David Steffen 6 September 2012 at 1:49 pm Permalink

    Shane–Thanks for posting!

    >>In fact, until last week, my writing was a secret even from my family!
    I did the same thing for the first couple years, except for my wife. I’ve trailed after a dozen different creative pursuits before and tend to lose momentum after a few months and find something else to do. So for me it was mostly that I didn’t want to announce it until I was sure I wanted to keep doing it.

    >>In fact, at the risk of sounding creepy myself, a David Steffen would be a person who I would be impressed to meet at a con!
    Not creepy at all. That’s high praise, I’d say. Thanks! I started this website when I decided that I should have some kind of web presence in case I got famous and anybody wanted to find me. But I didn’t want to do a typical blog, because I generally don’t like to read blogs–they almost always seem to me like a child shouting at its mother “look at me look at me what I’m doing is so exciting you must look at me!” Then I read Juliette Wade’s excellent blog, in which she does a very good job of promoting discussion rather than just talking about herself. A blog I actually want to read, what a revelation! I didn’t want to copy her format (and I don’t think I’d have been able to pull it off in any case), but I wanted to make a site that I would want to read if someone else was writing it. 🙂

    I’m not making money at this, so my only incentive is to use it as a method to interact with the community. I always like to get comments, because then I know that people are reading (rather than just Google drones passing through). If a stranger were to approach me at a con who said “I love your site” I would not be creeped out, I would be very happy that what I’m writing has an audience and I would be glad to shake their hand and talk to them about many and sundry a topic.

    >>And now I have a story held for a second round of consideration at the Drabblecast!
    Good luck! I am listening to every episode, so if you do get a story in I will hear it. Feel free to drop me a line if you make the sale too, to share the good news. I have a couple I’ve got on hold there as well, it would be cool if we both made it in. 🙂

    thanks for dropping a comment, and thanks for sticking around the site.
    I read every comment, and I try to reply to them all, so don’t be a stranger. 🙂

    ,David

  5. David Steffen 6 September 2012 at 2:00 pm Permalink

    Shane–In general I wouldn’t worry too much about sounding creepy, as long as you’re not going over the top. Especialy with authors, and especially those who are not super-famous. We’re used to being ignored and insignificant, it’s nice to have someone expressing interest.
    “I would like to meet you” is not creepy.
    “I would like to have your babies” is creepy.
    “I like your work” is not creepy.
    “I like watching you with binoculars” is creepy.
    🙂

  6. Shane 6 September 2012 at 2:27 pm Permalink

    Ha, no worries, I wasn’t really worried about seeming creepy. I probably came off like some weird anti-social lurker in my comment, but nothing could be further from the truth! Specifically for writing, I am more of a consumer of information than a producer.

    However, as a blogger (hopefully not the child-shouting-at-his-mother kind ;)) I have been on the receiving end, when someone I don’t know knows a whole lot about me, and it can be kind of strange sometimes (maybe creepy isn’t the right word).

  7. David Steffen 6 September 2012 at 2:37 pm Permalink

    >>However, as a blogger (hopefully not the child-shouting-at-his-mother kind )
    Haha, I probably shouldn’t be quite so harsh about blogs, since I have many friends who have them. It’s good to have a place to share things with those who want to know. I’ve rarely found one appealing enough to keep checking back, except maybe a family member’s or a very close friend’s. But if a blogger wants to blog, who am I to argue? And if others want to read it, even more so. 🙂

    >>I have been on the receiving end, when someone I donà ₠℠t know knows a whole lot about me, and it can be kind of strange sometimes (maybe creepy isnà ₠℠t the right word).
    Yes, definitely strange! But not in a bad way. Another reason I don’t keep a typical blog is that it makes me a bit nervous posting “inside” information about my family and personal life–having a stranger tell me they like my podcast reviews and like to read my fiction is one thing, having a stranger ask me how my son is liking kindergarten might freak me out a little, even though it’s well-meaning. (I don’t have a son, but you get the idea). But that probably says more about the level of comfort I have with broadcasting personal information on the Internet than about anything else.


Leave a Reply