I’ve been attending science fiction conventions since the early 80s, long before I was writing seriously. As a result, I have seen cons from a lot of different viewpoints: the wide-eyed newbie, the organizer climbing through the ranks of various concoms, helping organize a Nebula weekend, chairing a World Horror Convention and a Potlatch, and finally jumping the fence to become a professional writer, and sit on the other side of the table.
This past weekend we (the DH and I) attended Radcon, a fabulous convention in Pasco, Washington. We had a blast hanging out with friends from several states, talking about books and writing and agents and writing. I can highly recommend the convention, and they really love their guests. But there are differences between going to a con as a fan, and jumping the fence to the pro side.
Certainly cons have changed, but the difference between attending as a fan, or even a con runner, and as a pro are greater than I could have anticipated – at times almost overwhelming.
I think the biggest change for me was realizing that I am “on stage” and working at all times. There is no longer the safety of being unknown, or being able to say or do the silliest or most outrageous things without worrying (too much) about the consequences. Sure, I’m not going to be stalked by the paparazzi any time soon, but I still need to maintain a certain acceptable level of behavior.
You want an example? OK, here’s my most embarrassing (anonymous) moment. Many years ago my husband attended a World Fantasy Convention in Seattle. We couldn’t afford two memberships, so I went with him and hung out in the lobby, reading. At one point I ran into some fans I knew, who were running the Hospitality suite, and I offered to help. I ended up running trays, picking up dirty dishes, and being a general dog’s-body for Hospitality – without a badge to give away my name.
At one point Ed Bryant walked by. I had recently read his story “While She
Was Out.” (If you haven’t read it, go track it down. It is one of the best short stories. Ever.) I walked up to him, carrying my tray, and gushed all over him about how great that story was. Ed was a bit taken aback (terrified might be a better description!) but he managed to stammer his thanks. At that point my sanity returned and I realized how crazed I must sound. I looked at him, smiled weakly, and said “And I’m not wearing a badge, so you don’t even know who I am,” and fled.
Of course I confessed to a friend, who knew Ed and immediately outed me, and I am sure I’ve been forever enshrined in Ed’s memory as that crazy woman from Seattle. (I’ve moved, and considered changing my name – but I can’t afford plastic surgery. )
Would I dare to do that now? Not on your life! In fact, the shoe is now on the other foot. If I ever write a story as good as “While She Was Out” (just in case you’ve forgotten the title), I may be subject to a crazy-fan attack. If so, I hope I can be as gracious – and calm – as Ed was.
But my point is that I can no longer behave that outrageously in public, without risking becoming the subject of gossip and derision. I am no longer an anonymous fan without a badge, I am a pro with my name emblazoned across my chest, my picture in the program book, and my voice heard on panels.
I’ve been on the other side of the fence. I know how fans and concoms talk
about pros who are obnoxious, demanding, and self-important. I know word gets around about who drinks too much, gets grabby with other people’s spouses, or trashes hotel rooms. I know that my behavior will be judged as an individual, not as an anonymous part of the convention attendees, and I have to act accordingly.
Still, it’s a small price to pay for the chance to meet readers and other writers, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. And maybe, just maybe, find someone who loves your work so much they act a little crazy.
Christina F York