May Was Convention Month for Deborah

I don’t attend many conventions, and most of the ones I do appear at are local. The last couple of years have presented me with more opportunities. Some have involved a bit of driving and staying either with a friend or in the convention hotel. This year began with one such, FogCon in March. I’d enjoyed last year’s so much, I found a friend to share the hotel room with.

Usually it takes me a while to settle back into my usual schedule after a convention. For one thing, I normally move more slowly through my days, and conversations with family and close friends, while often rich in ideas, are more slowly paced, with lots of pauses to listen deeply and reflect on what has just been said. So I need to “revv up” the pace for conventions and then “spin down” afterward.

This year was not going to cooperate with that principle. I got a good long rest after FogCon, but then back to back conventions in May.

The first was the SFWA Nebula Awards Weekend, which is held in different parts of the country. I try to attend whenever it’s on my coast. Unlike other conventions, where I put on my “pro writer speaking to fans” hat, the Nebs are for professional writers and editors. Not a costume in sight, unless you count the elegant garb worn at the awards banquet itself. The panels are uniformly excellent, plus it’s a chance to see friends and colleagues from far away. This year, the Nebs involved a day-long drive. Originally I wasn’t going to attend, but inspiration struck — in the form of the same friend I shared the room with at FogCon, Juliette Wade. I already knew we got along really well, so it seemed reasonable to drive down together.

Juliette had been scheduled to moderate a panel on “The Gentle Art of Cursing,” but the time was late on the last day, which would have meant either staying an extra night (and she has school aged children) or driving all night. Fortunately, the programming folks were able to not only reschedule it (to the night we arrived) but add me. So, a few notes on cursing in world-building:

“Cursing” can mean use of an intensifier (“not f–ing likely”), an expression of dismay (“#$%^&*(!!!”), an insult (“you m–f–er!”), or a ritual to invoke harm upon another. In English, we tend to use the same words for the first three, and frown upon the fourth as dark magic. Obscenities typically involve reference to bodily functions or religion. Certain words sound like “cuss words.” We tried out some invented words and found that some worked better than others. I sang “frell” as if it were operatic Italian.

I made it to the last half of the panel on Managing a Creative Career with a Mental Illness, and wish I’d gotten there sooner. Here are my notes, wonderfully insightful concepts we can all use, whether we have a diagnosis or not:

  • “I have brain measles.”
  • “I am having symptoms.”
  • Practicing saying, “Thank you, I appreciate that,” when receiving praise. Give more compliments to others.
  • Get support from others who’ve been there. Strive for good brain health. Get enough rest.
  • Allow yourself to have down/off/rest days/times.
  • Remember that you have been through an episode like this before. You have written, and you will write again. This too shall pass.
  • Crazy VR (virtual reality) doesn’t resolve just because you recognize it for what it is. You still have to live with it.
  • If you’re having a down day, let people know, especially if it involves deadlines and other commitments.

Another of the “money shot” quotes came from David D. Levine, when describing how to make an effective pitch: don’t impose a cognitive burden on your listener; make it easy to grasp the concept.

Saturday morning, I got up and exercised, then noodled around the “hospitality space” that SFWA set up, adjacent to the coffee shop. The yoga class was about to start, so I joined in. It was held outdoors, which meant wearing shoes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found the physical relaxation and mental refreshment quite wonderful.

Saturday evening was the awards banquet and ceremony, wonderful as always. This is a time the professional community comes together to celebrate the achievements of its luminaries.

BayCon: Originally I didn’t have any panels on Saturday, but I got added to “Whatever Happened to FFW?” FFW was an old term of opprobrium for Female Fantasy Writers. Women have always written fantasy, even before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings made fantasy a Thing. C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Andre Norton (to name only a few — sorry if I omitted your favorite FFW) were followed by Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, and our very own moderator, Katharine Kerr. Some names are still familiar, some women are still writing, but less visibly. Others have either stopped writing or been forgotten.

Much of the discussion of women writers and women characters continued the next day with “How to Write a Heroine.” My own preference is to say woman or female hero, not heroine, because the gendered noun implies diminutive (like “authoress”). We talked about the difference between narrator, protagonist, and hero, and what constitutes heroism, and whether female heroes solve problems differently than male heroes do. I found myself thinking of Precious Ramotswe, the hero of The Ladies No. One Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith, and what makes her a hero to me is her steadfast belief in her own resourcefulness.

Monday’s Urban Legends in Science was a hoot. We covered everything from chemtrails to the outright fraud on the part of Andrew Wakefield that spawned todays anti-vaxxers, nutrition, the paranormal, and how often the laws of physics are violated in film. One panelist recommended Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), as a resource.

My last panel, “By Any Other Name” addressed the challenge of coming up with titles, as well as personal and place names. The three of us panelists — Heather Rose Jones, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, and I — all had different approaches to naming people and sometimes places, but we all considered culture and language as integral parts of linguistic world-building.

In between events at both conventions, I had many wonderful, warm, and substantial conversations with colleagues and dear friends. I said hello to others, got to know a few of them better, and introduced myself to authors whose work I loved. I won’t list names; to me, that’s too much like name-dropping, and relationships are not, imho, suitable fodder for public discourse. But in the end, it was these rich discussions and deepening friendships that make such gatherings memorable.

You don’t have to be an author to make friends with those whose work you enjoy. Just walk up and say hello, maybe ask a few questions. Offer to buy the author a cup of coffee. Better yet, as for an autograph or even better than better yet, mention the review of their work you’ve just posted. We all love great stories, both the tellers and the listeners, and those places switch all the time. In the years I’ve been going to conventions, I’ve seen fans, writers, editors, and publishers all switch places. So be polite. Be appreciative. Be kind. Be joyful!

 

Photo credits: Nebula awards shot by Dave Smeds; BayCon shot by David Price.

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