A Belated 2018 WorldCon Report

Deborah and Madeleine looking serious

I confess to a love-hate relationship with big conventions. I love the energy. I love seeing friends and colleagues from all over the world, particularly since most of the time, I am something of a hermit, nesting in my redwood forest. The prospect of so many of us getting together in one place at one time is intoxicating. Likewise, the richness of the programming (in this case), the celebration of creators and fans, is powerfully attractive. On the other hand, big conventions like WorldCon never come at the right time in my life. There seems to be a universal constant that says t(WC) = D(stress)max, where t = time, WC = WorldCon, and D = Deborah.

This year was no exception. The reasons are many and mostly personal, but suffice it to say that when August rolled around, I had not had an emotional break or a chance to fully recover from earlier events. When I pushed “Send” to email the latest Darkover novel to the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust (which holds the copyright and must give their approval before it goes to the editor), I felt as if I needed a month’s “dodo time.” Dodo time being an expanse of possibilities without any expectations of productivity.

Nevertheless, I had made a commitment while my brain was under the influence of the first paragraph. I had requested (and been granted) several events, including an autographing session, hosting a KaffeKlatch, and being a pro writer for the writers workshop. Stories from participants had been duly received, read, and critiqued. Not only that, but my publisher, DAW, would be in attendance, and I’d set up meetings with both my editors.

Since San Jose, locale of this year’s WorldCon, is local to me, I had originally intended to

Deborah and Madeleine having fun

commute from home (an hour-plus drive, mostly along twisty mountain roads), but my friend and fellow writer, Juliette Wade, invited me to stay with her — and to drive us both. So Friday morning, I presented myself at her place, and she and I and her kids, and the wonderful Kate Johnston headed for San Jose.

This is what WorldCons are like for me: I see a panel or twenty I’d love to hear, I start in that direction, I meet a friend I haven’t seen in x years (where x = 1-30), we hug, catch up on news both personal and professional, we each say we have a panel to get to, I return to my path, I go five paces, I seen another friend, and so forth. It’s a sort of Brownian motion and almost always results in many joyful reunions and lively conversations but few if any panels attended.

Friday followed the usual pattern, with the twist that after registering I wandered by the Green Room to get something to drink and didn’t leave until with was time for Tea with Rising Young Star Editor, Part the First. Much Green Room and Editorial hilarity ensued, and many aspects of publishing, career, and projects past and future were discussed. Friday night was the DAW dinner, an extravaganza of fellowship and amazing French cuisine that ran until midnight. And Juliette had an early event the next morning, so —

Insert glyph of sleep deprivation, followed by caffeine. Keep in mind that my normal daily allotment is one cup of black tea. Senior Editor and I grabbed large iced coffees and had a working, highly caffeinated gabfest, Part the Second. We discussed the future of Darkover (bright!) and where I might go with my original work. I’d already prepared for the chat with my agent and, needless to say, he was pleased with the outcome. (Stay tuned for future announcements.)

Later that afternoon, I hosted a KaffeeKlatch. This is a small group (alas, devoid of kaffee, er, coffee and, more importantly, coffee cake) sign-up-first meet-up with an author. To my delight, my table was full. Some of the people were old friends, others I knew only from social media, still others new to me. They asked questions and I held forth on everything from the current Darkover novel to future BVC releases to personal beacons of hope in a dark political time. Often the discussions included everyone present, which delighted me. Mostly I felt honored that so many had shown up just to spend some time with me.

At the end of the day, I was tiredissimo.

However, the next day (Sunday) dawned, so we wended our way back to the convention. I had a little time before my first event, so I hung out in the Green Room, where I met with old LA buddy Harry Turtledove and new-friend Henry Lien. Henry was about to give a reading, followed by Harry, so a group of us trooped off to listen. These were the only two events I actually got to attend, and they were both marvelous. Henry read from Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, for which he created a martial art form that incorporates kung fu and ice skating (since I studied kung fu san soo for 25+ years, we’d had a lively conversation in the Green Room). Harry’s story took us to an alternate State of Jefferson, where the governor is a Sasquatch.  Both readings were utterly delightful.

I went from there to an autographing session. A group of authors were arranged at a table, with aisles leading up to each of us (so the overflow for the more popular didn’t spread out and block access to the rest). I never know what to expect from these events. Sometimes I have a modest line (and sometimes folks who’ve collected the anthologies containing my short fiction bring them in boxes) and sometimes no one shows up. I usually bring something to read. In this case, I also brought copies of my collection of short fantasy fiction, Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel, newly available in print. I also — and this is one of my favorite tricks — brought a stack of bookplates. All too often, fans lament having left their copies of an author’s books at home (not realizing the author would be signing or maybe just not having enough room to bring them all) or have only an ebook edition. Ta-da! An autographed bookplate to the rescue! The author beside me, adorably young, was in this situation, so I whipped out my bookplates and offered them to her. Much happiness — fan and author, and me for making their days complete — ensued.

After a short break, I hurried off to my last scheduled event, a section of the writers’ workshop. Three participants had already submitted stories (or in one case the first 5K words of a novel) to a panel of pro authors for critiques. Especially for newer authors, this kind of one-off workshop can be a breakthrough. I’ve done many of them in the past and am still in touch with some of the participants who have gone on to major sales. I critique as I was taught, with a written analysis. The reasons for this are several. One is that it simply isn’t possible to absorb everything you’re being told about your story (from one critiquer, let alone three). The print-out gives the author something to refer back to, so they can just listen instead of struggling to do that and take notes at the same time. Writing down my thoughts forces me to be clear, logical, and to the point. I am not vulnerable to changing my mind based on what another critiquer has said. Even if we agree, I can’t jump on the bandwagon with “What He Said.” Of course, if we do agree, repetition ensues, but two or more viewpoints are never exactly the same, so they’re all still valuable.

One of the drawbacks of these workshops is that I don’t know the authors, where they are in their careers, and how they respond to having problems identified. I strive to avoid sarcasm, personal comments, or any hint of a dismissive tone. They took their stories seriously enough to submit them (and well ahead of time) so they deserve a thoughtful, serious critique. All in all, the participants seemed pleased with the feedback, and we ended on an upbeat note.

My last stop was a party given by my hostess, Juliette Wade, who runs a weekly Google Hangout on world-building. Much delicious food accompanied readings that depicted meals.

Then I wended my way home to my redwood-forested mountains, only to discover that the backlog of chores had not mysteriously taken care of itself while I was away. Such is the life of a convention-author.

 

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