I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into when I signed up a year ago for World Fantasy Convention. I had friends that were going to be there, Neil Gaiman was a guest of honor, so that was all a big selling point. My confidence slackened a bit when my wife told me she didn’t think she could manage the vacation time. But I had the ticket so I figured, “Why not?” Besides, with only 500 people attending, I might actually get to meet Neil Gaiman. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really meet Neil Gaiman, unless you count running into him and getting him to sign a copy of Stardust for my wife. But really what I got out of the convention was much cooler than meeting Neil Gaiman. SRSLY.
I arrived in San Diego Wednesday afternoon. I had some mixed experiences with the hotel, but had no other WFCs to compare it to. I think the coolest part of the hotel was that they had Fantasy Island style golf carts to shuttle guests around the campus as needed. It was invaluable at times when I had a bunch of crap to carry.
There had been some emails sent out to the convention attendees, mostly kinda spammy. But included was an invitation from Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore to an informal meet and greet with authors from the convention on Wednesday night. Feeling bold, I RSVP’ed and let them know I was an author interested in attending. They added me to the list. I wasn’t even sure I’d be included, especially once the program for the convention came out and I was on none of the panels or readings. But they did include me. They even obtained copies of Crossed Genres Year One, though I didn’t find them the night of the event. (Note to self: When you’re at a bookstore and you’re looking for copies of an anthology you’re in, it won’t be shelved under your last name.)
But there was also a pretty astounding list of authors that were going to be there. Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, David Brin, Stina Leicht, Tone Milazzo, Mary Robinette Kowal, J.A. Pitts, Brenda Cooper, Patrick Rothfuss, Connie Willis, John Hornor Jacobs, Kate Elliott… I felt ridiculously out of my league.
I shared the shuttle from the airport with Nina Kiriki Hoffman who I had never heard of, but a bit of googling on my iPhone turned up her Wikipedia page. So, apparently she’s a big deal. She was also kind enough to look after me a bit at the author event, as did Mary Robinette Kowal. Which was a good thing. Even if my anxiety about the event wasn’t enough, the San Diego heat combined with low blood sugar and body heat in a crowded book store left me pretty miserable. Apparently San Diego doesn’t agree with my definition of “air conditioning.” In the end, I had a relatively good time with excellent conversation, but starting out the event drenched in sweat was not my ideal.
I spent much of the convention latched on to one friend or another. Once panels started I loosened up a bit, but it was nice to have a buddy along for those times when I felt like I was at loose ends. And I met a bunch of people that I then later latched onto as well. Overall the convention was mostly about meeting people, and not just in the raw networking sense of things. A large chunk of the 500 some odd members of the conventions were writers and other industry professionals. I met published authors, authors pitching their first novels, fans who were just starting to try their hand at writing, editors, slush readers, publicity directors and more. And everyone wanted to introduce you to someone else you might like.
There were panels, and some were good. But it was not nearly as awesome as just sitting around with some beers with people who love the same stuff you do. I have never had this experience in either the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, which was filled with writers of all different genres. Nor at Norwescon, which is much more of a fan convention.
So, here are some random highlights of the weekend:
- Michael Underwood and Rich Howard were among the authors I met who were pitching manuscripts. They both had jaw-dropping ideas behind their books, the sort of thing that I just kick myself for not thinking of myself. I won’t tell you what they are, since I don’t know how much they want known yet, but I encourage you to check them out and look for their books.
- I got to see Elizabeth Bear for the first time in many years. She had once been heavily involved in the Amber Diceless gaming community and I had met her and her now ex-husband at AmberCon. I’m still friends with her ex-husband (he officiated my wedding this last July) but between the divorce and her writing career she hasn’t been back in some time. I was surprised by how excited I was to see her again.
- I got to attend some really wonderful readings. In addition to Michael Underwood, I also got to see readings by Neil Gaiman, Liz Argall, Siobhan Carroll and Steven Boyett. Steven’s was perhaps the best of the readings I attended. I had met him going out to dinner with my friend Nathan and we ended up with Steven, Cliff Winnig (another AmberCon alumni) and Nayad Monroe (who I also just met that night). I had no idea who I was going to dinner with, but came out of it feeling like I’d met a ton of awesome people. The next day at Steven’s reading, he didn’t just read. He had memorized his pieces, rehearsed them and presented them. The piece that he presented from his latest novel, Mortality Bridge, was especially amazing because his introduction to the piece blended right into the selection from the story. You can see a video of him reading it here.
- I brought home a bunch of books. The book bag they gave us had a dozen books plus some magazines and various shwag. Ever time I met a new author I thought was neat, I ran out to find their book. The convention anticipated that and had an on-site post office there to help people ship books home. I spent over $40 on shipping three boxes of books and still had a big pile of stuff to stuff into carry on. I’m not looking forward to seeing my credit card bill.
- With the high volume of professional authors at the event, I had several mini-geek out moments. But nothing quite topped Sunday night. The crowd of the convention had thinned out and it seemed like many of the people remaining were pros of one sort of another. At one point I had the rare honor of having Mary Robinette Kowall and Tim Powers giving me advice and reassurance on writing. Then, into the middle of this, Steven Erikson joined us and shared a story about nearly dying in Mongolia. I’d seen both Powers and Erikson throughout the conversation, but while I loved their writing I didn’t feel fanboyish enough to try and engage them earlier. But finding myself actually conversing with them and Mary as a fellow (if less successful) writer was rare and magical.
I want to go back next year. I don’t know how I can swing it, but I really want to attend in Toronto when it goes out that way. Especially since I probably won’t be able to attend in Brighton in 2013. This event was amazing and powerful for me as a writer, much as AmberCon Northwest nourishes me as a roleplayer. If you’re a writer of speculative fiction of any sort, I really encourage you to try and attend this at some point.