Monday, July 11, 2016

My First ReaderCon — A Wrap Up

Blogging regularly, as it turns out, is as difficult as I remember. Lately, the world has left no shortage of things to say. But what to say? When? How? Or more simply, to not, which is the place where I've repeatedly landed, having started and stopped a number of posts.

Fortunately, I took a slight reprieve from the dumpster-fire world to attend my first ReaderCon this past weekend. While no stranger to the geeky end of the Boston convention scene—PAX East, Boston Comicon, Arisia, Boskone—this is the first time I've been able to attend ReaderCon.

Overall, it was an enjoyable enough line up of panels. I was a little dismayed at first, having left the first two I attended partway through. If I had any significant criticism, it was that several of the panel topics were enticing, but their actual discussions fell a little short. There was too much "this is what I think X is" and not enough "this is how we take X and go forward with it," especially pertaining to creativity in fiction. Twice in one weekend, I had friends refer to the discussions as too much "101" on a topic.

(There was also some tip-toeing/avoidance/shut-downs concerning racial issues. I don't want to comment too deeply on this, as I wasn't at most of the panels in which it occurred, or I completely missed something due to poor acoustics or my wandering attention span. But, hopefully, there will be more full panels specifically dedicated to those discussions in the future, as they are clearly wanted.)

What struck me most, though, was that ReaderCon was the most "professional" public convention I've ever attended. Even moreso than Boskone, my prior benchmark, it seemed there were more published authors, editors, and agents at the convention than than "regular" attendees. Which makes for informative panels, but also adds a certain level of weirdness, especially in the confined space of a semi-remote hotel. You pass authors you idolize in the halls. End up at the same party as editors you hope might want to acquire one of your books someday. Attend a panel with the agent who has your friend's manuscript. Ride the elevator with a Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Eep. Cue raging insecurity.

Several months ago, Kameron Hurley (the author I was most excited to see, but whom unfortunately had to cancel her attendance at Readercon) wrote an amazing post about kindness at conventions. She talks about opening up the "circles," those social groups who inevitably exist in the convention environment. When you're unknown and unestablished, it can be rather hard to know what's appropriate to do in that intimate atmosphere. Should you talk to that author you admire, sitting a table away in the pub? What's an acceptable place or time to pose a query question to an agent? If you overhear a well-known editor talking about your favorite fandom at a party, is it okay to try and join the conversation? If you chat at an evening party, during the haze of revelry, does that open the door to do so again in the light of day?

Hurley's post resonated with me since, when I was in school, I spend a lot of time on the edges of circles. Not quite out, but not quite in either. Eventually, I learned to stop seeking crumbs of acceptance, and I was lucky enough to find the circles who didn't relegate me to that uncertain fringe. I even encountered a group of writers who opened their circle to me, and showed me how to go from crawling to walking on the writing path.

And at most of the cons I attend, "opening the circle" happens quite naturally. You chat with the people around you in line for panels or demos. Folks you're acquainted with from other corners of life join you for dinner, and cross the bridge to friend. Friends of friends become friends of yours. At PAX East, the boardgames Freeplay area even has "Looking for Players" orange cones you can put on your table, an open invitation for a stranger to going you for a game or two.

ReaderCon was the first convention in years where I felt back on the edge. Not in a negative manner; in reality, I had so many writing friends in attendance that none of us ever wanted for excellent company. And plenty of those friends are friends with the people whom I forget how to human around; I'm enough of a grown up to ask for an introduction if I really want it.

Still, there was something almost Austen-esque about the whole situation. An insecure perception of needing the right manner, or connections, or per-year (book sales, that is) to truly be party to what's going on. An awareness that I hadn't "arrived" yet, and maybe I never will. (Hurley is far more articulate on this, having greater scope and better writing skills, and I urge anyone who attends conventions to go read her post.)

In the end, ReaderCon was my fairly standard con experience: new information and inspiration, getting to see good friends, too much bad food and booze, not nearly enough sleep.

After I got home, though, a friend texted me, thanking me for inviting him along with my writing group for in-room drinks and hanging out. Circle opened? Check, apparently. (Of course, anyone who knows me knows I look for just about any excuse to play bartender.)

It would be ever so splendid (Did Austen ever write that? Probably not.) to one day be the person making others forget how talk, instead of being the one trying to make it through the elevator ride without being awkward. But if that doesn't happen, at least I know I'll be siting in the panel audiences with plenty of friendly, familiar faces around me.

(And, if you want to come hang out with us, we'll be in the pub. Cocktail hour. See you there.)

No comments:

Post a Comment