Last weekend I hopped in my car and went to one of the great loves of my life: a local convention.
I’ve had a sort of love/hate relationship with conventions for the last decade or so. “Working the booth” can turn anything into a grind, but since being freed from that responsibility, I’m happy to report that most of the “hate” part has finally fallen away. But then I’m not a big fan of travel, especially lonely solo travel, so some conventions still have a little bit of that hate part left, which is to say I hate going there, but love being there.
But when the convention is a twenty-minute drive down I-90 into downtown Seattle? Well, people, it’s all love.
Last year, I flew down to San Francisco at considerable expense to attend Wondercon. I had a terrific time, and spoke in front of a massive crowd (I still can’t believe that crowd!). Then a friend asked me why I flew all the way to San Francisco when I could have just gone to Emerald City Comicon? I dismissed ECCC, having been to it a couple times, some years before. It was a very, very small con, with a tiny dealers area, very few publishers, a handful of fourth-tier celebrities, and almost no actual programming.
Well, that friend told me, that was then, and this is now. From those humble beginnings ECCC has grown into a serious convention . . . way bigger, and I mean way bigger than the last time I attended. It’s moved from a too-small space in Qwest Field to a much, much, much bigger but already too small space at the Washington State Convention Center in the heart of downtown Seattle.
I’m not sure of the final attendance numbers but it was crowded as can be. The only complaint I had was that there were too many people for the space they took up, sharing the convention center with some kind of ceramics convention. That’s not really a complaint, but a compliment. They underestimated themselves, and I hope they won’t make that mistake next year.
I signed up with the convention organizers to run my one-man seminar based on The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. I was slotted into a decent-sized room for 4:00 on Friday. Not a bad time slot, and when I first saw the room I was sure it was plenty big. It being a Friday, and school is in session here, the crowds weren’t that bad yet, it all seemed much smaller-scale than Wondercon, so I was sure I would be okay in that room, playing to a few empty seats at least.
But when I came back to the room at about 3:30 there was a sign saying “Room Full” and a line of people waiting outside. The seminar before me was about Photoshop techniques, and I assumed the line of people that stretched on and on back into the dimly lit corridors of the convention center was overflow from that—people waiting for a seat to open up.
I was wrong. They were there for me.
Music swells, as does ego.
Still, it was a pretty big room.
I had no idea that a few friends and former co-worker from Wizards of the Coast were waiting in that line. Two of them gave up their seats when they saw that the line was being cut off, and one was stuck too far back in the line and was turned away.
Ego swells farther, music becomes deafening.
Really? Room Full, people turned away . . . for lil ol’ me?
Believe me, people, I needed that. I needed that so badly, I can’t even tell you. That seminar didn’t just make my day, even my weekend, but it’s actually rescued me from what was turning into a really depressing year.
There’s no way to tell you how much it means to me just to have people show up.
But the people in that seminar did a lot more than that. They listened attentively, laughed at my jokes, and asked fantastic questions. I don’t mean to play favorites, but ECCC’s questions were better than the questions I got last year in San Francisco, and that was from a pool of people maybe three times the size. There are smart, dedicated, curious, and articulate people out there, and thankfully, some of them want to write fantasy and SF. I hope I helped them do that a little better.
Last year my Wondercon post also included some advice to authors about attending conventions, and I did my best to follow my own advice this time around, too. At Wondercon, Matt Ashland of Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics agreed to take a few copies of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction on consignment, and I was delighted to see that Matt would be at ECCC this year, too. I emailed him a couple weeks before the con and set that up again, dropping off some copies of the book to him just before the exhibit hall opened on Friday. Authors: You must have as many of your books on sale at the convention in which you’re appearing as humanly possible. Do the legwork. Make the connections. Work with the convention staff to make sure you’re following their rules, but get your books up for sale.
Another shot in the psychological arm for me was running into a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in too long, and should be seeing way, way more often. I bumped into Susan Morris first and we seemed to attract more people. Erin Evans appeared as if by magic, then another former WotC co-worker Logan Bonner, then Stan!, who I’ve known since 1995 when we worked together at TSR in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I ran into Cortney Marabetta, Brain James, Erik Scott deBie, Kuo-Yu Liang of Diamond Distribution, and Randall Crews, also from WotC (he was the guy who was turned away in line—sorry, Randall, maybe next year!).
It can be tough being a one-man operation, freelancing, writing, consulting, with few opportunities for human contact. No one comes to my home office—I exist primarily in cyberspace—and the dog is not much of a conversationalist. I’ve always been ambivalent about the phone, and I think I’m disturbing people if I call them, so I end up doing my work, communicating primarily via email, and ending each week feeling lonely, cooped up, and depressed. It’s not good. It’s not healthy.
Emerald City Comicon not only cured me of that but made it crystal clear that it’s up to me to change that and I have got to change that. I will start to talk to actual humans more. I will call people. This time, really. I’ve even put myself back out on the job market in a serious way. I find I miss the team dynamic way, way more than I thought I would. I’m looking for places to go. I’m getting out of the house.
As an aside here, at the end of my seminar I announced that I will be teaching a class in writing fantasy and science fiction at Bellevue College here in the Seattle area starting with the summer quarter in June. Keep an eye on this blog and my Twitter feed for more on that (the summer schedule has not been finalized yet)—would-be authors in the Seattle area, this means you!
After my seminar I bumped into Susan and Erin again and we talked about how well attended my seminar was and about how awesome I am and how everyone wants to be just like me because I have all of this being a human stuff totally perfected.
Actually, we talked about how cute Erin’s baby is. He actually does have being a cute baby totally perfected.
Despite my swelled sense of importance, Susan still invited me to sit in on her panel, which was scheduled for later that evening, down in the game area. I was happy to join in on a conversation about crafting villains for fiction and games. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, heard me talk elsewhere, or have read The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, you know how I feel about villains. Villains tend to be the primary motive force behind all stories.
The game area was relegated to a very difficult to find section of the convention center I’ve never seen before, even though I’ve been to several other events there. But once we found the room, Susan, Erin, and I took our seats at the table and were thrilled to see that a bunch more people had found this little corner of the convention center, too. Another “sold out” performance. People were turned away at the door. And I had an even better time, having two frighteningly smart and wise-beyond-their-years author/editors to play off of. Susan kept the thing humming along as though she’d been doing this longer than me, even though I am a shockingly old man, and have been going to conventions since before she was born.
It certainly made me miss that team at WotC. We really had a great thing going there while it lasted. But the good news is, we’re all on to some terrific new challenges, and then there’s that terribly cute baby, too.
That was the end of the night for me, and I went home in a joyful haze.
The next day, Saturday, was “family day.” I had no more seminar obligations, and I’d bought tickets for my wife and two kids. My daughter is a full-on manga/anime fanatic, and my son grew up on comic books and video games. They were in heaven. My wife, maybe not so much, but she not only found a way to enjoy herself despite the mammoth crowds of people she knew only by association with her husband and children, but she found a book she had to have: Pugs: God’s Little Weirdos by Dave Kellett.
And so did I.
I like to come home from every convention with some kind of amazing find. At Wondercon I found a copy of Fantastic Four #200 for only $2.00 then walked a few booths away and found Marv Wolfman, who actually wrote that issue, signing autographs. He signed mine and it was an instant prized possession. I brought Boilerplate home from Wordstock . . . this goes all the way back to 1981 for me. This year, I found a brilliant graphic rendition of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, self-published by Jason Bradley Thompson. I couldn’t wait to plop down my $25 and have him sign it for me, and I can’t wait to read it. I also made off with a couple of fun Tarzan comics from the 50s and eight random pulp magazines from the 40s that I paid $10 for. They might not even be worth that, but he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I got a couple t-shirts, too, and the kids came back with some fun stuff.
In the end we didn’t spend that much money, even in the convention center pricing universe where $2.50 buys you one 12 ounce can of root beer, but we had a fantastic time.
My daughter described the Futurama panel featuring voice actors Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche as the greatest experience of her life. That and the look on my son’s face while Walking Dead actor Jon Berenthal (there, in the big room, with co-star Laurie Holden) described his failed pitch for how he wanted Shane to die, was worth ever penny and more.
Okay, we’re a nerdy family. We had the best day.
So, yes, authors, go to conventions. Get on panels. Arrange for your books to be sold there.
And bring your family. Meet your friends. Laugh. Smile. Be with your people, your community. Have a love/love relationship with your local convention.