Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So you've never been to a Science Fiction Convention?

Why am I going to a Science Fiction convention? Will everyone there look like “The comic store guy” from The Simpsons? Will people expect me to know all the character’s names from Babylon 5? I was unsettled in going to a science fiction convention; but thankfully the PCL Bus driver taking me from Victoria to Vancouver Airport distracted me from these concerns by replacing them with larger concerns, namely his continuous homicidal road rage. His endless yelling at a non-English speaking Japanese girl, concerned me, but it was when he ran off the bus (twice) to chase drivers, screaming and waving his arms that I began to be truly concerned. Being held hostage by a man whose heavy use of the two bus horns while he surged forward before slamming the brakes to convince drivers he was going to flatten their vehicles took my mind off VCON completely.

I arrived a little early to get ready for my panel. The organizers weren’t. There was a guy walking around in a giant floppy hat, colourful breeches and stocking. There were no signs. People wandered about aimlessly, some talked to themselves (I was one of them). The box of books Arsenal Press had sent was missing. It was unsettling, so I did a line of cocaine to calm down. No, no, wait, that’s supposed to read, “I bought a coke to drink and calmed down.”

The first panel was titled; “What makes a good ending?” and the moderator was the fan guest of honor, which meant he had been to a lot of these and knew what to do. I learned that a good moderator MAKES the panel as every panel will have a mix of the following. 1) Writers who are freaked out by public speaking and say very little until prodded. 2) Writers who love to hear themselves talk and may even refer to themselves in the third person and will do 30% of the talking in a panel of six people IF there is a good moderator (otherwise they will do 60% of the talking) 3) Writers who will only talk about their book, regardless of the question – for example, Q: “What is an example of a good cross genre book?”, A: “Is there one? However, MY BOOK, which features talking squids from space….” 4) At least two writers who are incredibly dogmatic and will spend most of the time on the panel countering each other and making digs and 5) Some genuinely nice and interesting people with a lot of good anecdotes (which due to panelists 1-4, you will never get to hear).

The first question in this panel was “What is the best book ending you have ever read?” They started at the opposite end of the table and the first writer started debating on which of two of her books contained the best ending ever. Then next writer did same. I was stunned. I mean, I like to think of myself as a vain and self-centered person but to claim out of the thousands of books I had read that the “best” ending was one I had written? Afterward Linda reminded me that even the times I am not talking, I am still at a table at the front of the room, so everyone can still see, for instance, when I start making gagging motions and stick my finger down my throat. For the “best” ending, I chose Moby Dick, since it not only resonated with the classic myth type of “one left to tell the tale” but involves EVERY single person following their obsession into oblivion leaving but one poor innocent to ride a COFFIN to safety. Smashing! However, I was the only person on the entire panel to not choose my OWN work (heck, Zed was a great book, but you know I can’t really do the whole, “Gee, well you know the Bible was influential in its day…but now I’ve written my book” thing).

So between that and Friday night being Richmond’s groups of young offenders on a spree night, it was a fairly crap day. But with some feedback from Linda, I went into Saturday with a plan; Mark Twain them. Mark Twain created his career by responding to the audience and getting the audience to respond to him. I figured that with what limited time I had, it was better that the crowd look forward to whatever I might say than anything else (after all, they had paid money to come). That worked well.

I’ll have to say meeting Dave Duncan was a bit of a disappointment as we sat next to each other on a panel. My telling him that I liked his book, Impossible Odds, got a muttered, “Not that good.” He does convention after convention, going from here to another Con before going to a Texas Science Fiction Convention as the Guest of Honor. During the panel he spoke once, to promote his latest book and fell silent the rest of the time (at one point appeared asleep). Barbara Hambly alternated between being bored and verbally sparring with the woman next to her. Everyone but me felt that a good book was one which made the publisher want you to write lots of sequels. My notion that a powerful type mystery/science fiction hybrid (Blade Runner for example) was in how it made the nature of the protagonist and thus the reader themselves an unfolding mystery, beyond that of the “who done it?”. Pooh, pooh the panel said, no sequel there.

This is not to say that VCON was all sour parsnips, as I met the Brian, the publisher of Edge press who travels from Con to Con promoting his authors, as well as publishing annual anthologies. Considering that the market for short story writing, particularly in Science Fiction, is dead (writers are paid the same per word now that they were 60 years ago), to have this guy putting his weekends, his finances, and himself into the field like this is inspirational. And, after conversation with Brian, there is a strong possibility that I will be one of the people to assess the books off Edge’s “slush pile.” So the wheel turns, now I may soon be one of those narrow-minded regressives who doesn’t understand the true potential of what they hold in their hands (like so many unnamed publisher’s readers who have delivered rejection letters to my door).

Also, while I met some of those people who trap you into rambling go nowhere conversations I also met a lot of people who were there simply to have fun and mingle with people of like mind. Yes, there was one older guy in a sailor moon outfit (I believe he goes to all the anime/Sci-Fi Cons), but also lots of nice costumes that suited the individuals (though why do so many guys dress up as villains?) Admitted, I did turn and run away from one conversation which had to do with a species from Farscape elevating sexual unions to the next level (All I could think of was the part from the Simpsons when the “comic store guy” passes a law emulating the Vulcans where everyone has sex only every seven years: “While for some of you this may mean much less sex, for others of us, it will mean much, much more.”). As well as inadvertently starting a fight by using the words “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” in the same sentence, which caused one of the people who had gone to several of the panels I was on to tell me that “Harry Potter is Lord of the Rings lite.” which soon erupted into violent arguments I thought it best to move as far as possible from.

By the end of Saturday I was a “known” person and people were coming up to talk to me or ask me questions, including one guy who told me that I was the Christian Right’s worst nightmare, a tall articulate lesbian. “Who’s good with a sword,” I added, wondering exactly what conversations had gone in rooms the night before to make my orientation a matter of public record. No one kissed my feet, and no one bought my book, at least at the Con, but, I think I would go to one again, though only if I could do more panels. This was my first experience directly interacting with a reading market and the connection between being a “personality” and sales. Basically, for a newly published writer like me, being cool or interesting and somehow larger than life, is the best way to interest the hundreds of potential readers to check me and my work out. Luckily between my build, my big mouth and my personality I don’t have a problem being “larger than life” (like on the panel on Future Humans, one audience member felt that being able to manipulate sexual orientation in insects as scientists do now is meaningless, as human sex has nothing to do with insect sex. “So why?” I responded, “after sex, do I feel often like ripping the head off my sexual partner?” Please note, Linda laughed.)

I was frankly disappointed in the “big name” writers and didn’t bother stealing anything from them (though we did come away with some dragon fridge magnets). From now on, at Cons or public events I will take my cue from a gay guy I know in Wales called Stephen Best, who when off stage, always made you feel like you were the total centre of his attention (until he politely made his excuses 30 seconds later and moved on). This, combined with preparation and wit in the panels, gives the visiting Con members what they paid for; the idea that favorite books along with the people who read and write books all gathered together in one place are more interesting and exciting than everyday life.


Yoga Korunta said...

Elizabeth is articulate.

elizabeth said...

I'm going to start referring to myself in the third person. That might be fun. And hey - next time there's free dragon magnets grab me some. I love free magnets. Free magnets and little mint tins - two of my favorite things ever.

That bus driver sounds like a blast.

GayProf said...

But did you wear the ears?