Writers go to science fiction conventions for business reasons: to promote their work, meet with agents and publishers, talk to editors, network with other writers, and spend time with their fans.
There’s a certain amount of fun involved — science fiction conventions are much more entertaining than your average business conference — but the writer’s purpose is still career-focused. Hanging out in the bar to talk to people and making sure your book is available in the dealer’s room are key elements of the professional’s con experience.
I didn’t go to WisCon for any of those reasons this year. I went for the ideas.
O.K., so I did meet with my publisher about the novel I’m revising. And I did hang out in the bar and do a bit of networking. But I participated in panels about ideas that interested me — brain science and sex differences, peace studies — rather than ones that were more business-related. (Apologies to my fellow members of Book View Cafe, but I did not do or even go to a single panel on ebook publishing and marketing this year.)
I went to panels and academic presentations on fascinating ideas ranging from politics to science to how to use your voice. In fact, much as I love fiction, I didn’t go to many readings or even attend panels focused on certain books or authors.
What I needed most from the convention this year was exposure to complex discussions of ideas. And I got it.
Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Liz Henry, and Alexis Lothian — Aqueduct Press authors all — did a superb panel on “Imagining Radical Democracy.” One key point from my notes: We have “large collective problems, no collective solutions, [and] no collective process.” Listening to these incredibly bright women talk, I started thinking about how we might film them and put them out on the Internet, as well as about finding other venues for both them and their radical ideas between WisCons.
Heather Whipple gave a paper in which she argued that after over 50 years of human spaceflight, it’s time to incorporate outer space into our geography instead of continuing a pre-Copernican Earth-centric view of the universe. Earth is, after all, part of “outer space.” Her work uses science fiction to help us imagine this new geography.
Jennifer Fierke gave a talk on “Darwin and the Digital Body: Evolution, the Posthuman, and Imaginative Spaces of Embodiment.” One point from my notes: When you use a tool, your body incorporates use of that tool into your overall self in real time.
Pan Morigan’s workshop on using your voice taught me something very personally important: while my breathing is very good, my jaw and tongue are tight. Loosening them up will improve my reading and public speaking, and might even help me retrieve some of my singing range. That’s a different kind of knowledge from the intellectual, but I found out years ago that I needed to learn things with my body as well as with my mind.
That’s not everything I did, but it gives you a flavor of my WisCon. Nothing I went to had any direct connection to anything I’m working on at the moment. My notes contain new ideas that I got from listening, snippets I might use in a story or essay some day, and lists of further references.
In short, my brain was engaged, frequently to the point of overload. In fact, my main response to most of these presentations was, “You made my head explode.”
In the end, that’s my real reason for going to WisCon: It’s guaranteed I’ll find a panel or a presentation or a conversation that will make my head explode.
And nothing makes me happier than that. Except writing something that makes readers’ heads explode.
Nancy Jane Moore is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her BVC e-books include a collection of short-short stories, Flashes of Illumination, and the novella Changeling, first published by Aqueduct Press. Her short stories and essays are also available in most of the BVC anthologies.