What I learned at my first convention

I had a wonderful experience at ConFusion. It is still fueling me creatively. I have steampunked out a Nerf Maverick and a Squirtgun. The Kazoo SF Writers’ Group has a new member. And I think back on it warmly. What did I do right?

I went with a completely open attitude. If it is your first con you probably have your non-sf friends teasing you and trying to riddle you with stereotypes about all the weirdos you are willingly joining. There are people there doing and wearing things you’ve never seen. True that guy over there may be dressed up as a unicorn, but he is completely approachable. Almost everyone there was. I had my camera and cosplay is a great way to meet people. I’d just say, “Great costume, will you take a picture with me?” Nobody told me no. And I met Laura,one of my best confriends for the weekend that way.

I was there to meet writers. Even after years at this, learning by doing and studying outstanding work by others, there is still the persistent myth that they just know something that if you knew it it would make it easy to write award-winning stories the moment you got home. The urge to ask them unanswerable questions must be purged. Seriously, purge the urge. Also the idea that they are there to provide you with something. They give plenty in the panels. So my goal was to be friendly. Friends are people you get along with because you have things in common with them. You are mutually interesting to each other. You all know this.

So I confidently approached the tables at the bar where the writers were gathered. I waited until I wasn’t interrupting anyone then I introduced myself and my buddy Mike, sharing a few details. If there was a conversation going on I tried not to derail it, or interrupt. The people I met at one end of the table, the Rambos (I had met Wayne in the ConSuite), Merrie Haskell, Dave Klecha, Jim C Hines were very easy to talk to. When I made my way to the other end where Toby Buckell, John Scalzi, Doselle Young were they were already into a very great conversation. I introduced myself, but I could tell that I really couldn’t add much without trying to take over the conversation, or ask that they stop and catch me up, so I smiled, picked up my chair and skedaddled. I knew the con was going all weekend and I would have another chance to meet them. I didn’t want to try to have my fun at their fun’s expense. And it was cool. Later I got Sly Mongoose signed by Toby Buckell and I got to meet his wife Emily and congratulate them on their upcoming twins.

Here’s the thing, you may have an author hero that you want to approach. They may be glad to see you and to sit at the bar and talk writing or SF or video games or whatever with you and that is awesome. But they may be worn out, grumpy, or feeling antisocial and that has to be alright with you. If you walk up to an author and she looks at you like someone burned her birthday waffles and you look like the type to do it, it is okay to introduce yourself, tell her what you appreciate about her work and move along.

I met Wayne Rambo first in the ConSuite and we had a great time. At one point I asked him if he liked to write SF and he said, not really. He is a funloving and outgoing guy, but I am picturing if my spouse came to one of these with me. Okay, let’s say I am a famous writer, Guest of Honor, and my spouse comes with me (a guy can dream). She is really cool, but a bit shy around new people. Would you as a writer coming to this con for the first time talk to her, get to know her and me? Or would you ignore her and drool over my coolness (I said a guy can dream!)? Now let’s say there really is a Secret that you can learn by me telling you instead of by you writing your tail off and paying attention to what you are doing. If you make this con fun for both me and my spouse I am more likely to tell you where the secret idea well is where you can lower your bucket and come up with your own successful story ideas. And if my wife has a good time, she won’t roll her eyes at me next year when I beg her to come back.

I asked a lot of questions, but they were open questions that encouraged people to share. I told stories about things that had happened to me or Mike or people I knew. I only mentioned my own writing when it came up in the conversation. Now I didn’t have any stories I was trying to sell, so maybe that made me more confident than I would have been if I had been trying to sell something. Nothing makes a first meeting more awkward than wanting something from somebody before you know them. Tell jokes..good ones.

Okay this post has gone long enough. ConFusion was a while ago. If you have any con stories, examples of behavior that paid off for you, or humiliating faux pas (or is it faux pases?) feel free to share in the comments.

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