Thursday, November 08, 2007

World Fantasy Convention 2007 (Trip Report)

I started attending conventions in 1998 because of Terry Brooks. I'd met him at his book signing at the MIT Coop Bookstore for his book Running with the Demon. He was one of the very first Real Live Authors that I ever met. I remember that I circled the store twice before I got up the nerve to talk to him. (I also remember I was wearing an Alice in Wonderland T-shirt. No idea why I remember that. Some details just stick. Like 80s song lyrics.) I confessed that I wanted to be a writer, and he was immensely kind and encouraging. One bit of advice that he gave me was to start attending conventions. Meet people in the business. Learn about the business.

So I did.

And it was hard.

I knew absolutely no one at first. Not a single soul. And conventions are filled with people who have known each other for years. I developed various tricks for looking less pathetic: I'd pretend to study the program guide (even though I'd plotted out my schedule days before); I'd circle through the art show and dealers' room in random patterns so it wouldn't be obvious I was just endlessly circling (key to this technique is frequent bathroom breaks, whether you need to or not); I'd eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
in the car so I wouldn't be seen eating lunch by myself. And every opportunity I got -- after panels, at autographing sessions, before and after readings -- I'd gather my courage and go introduce myself to new people. I tried to make it a game: meet as many new people as I could without committing any major social faux pas. (In other words, starting a conga line was right out. Ditto on clucking like a chicken.)

I'm not saying all this for pity. I'm saying this out of pride. IT WORKED. Through sheer stubbornness, I met people. And more people. And more people! This past weekend, I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY, and it was AWESOME. I swear that I couldn't walk two feet wit
hout seeing someone that I knew. No looking at program guides, no random circling, no PB&J (which I don't even like) in the car. In fact, one day, I actually had lunch twice. (Not a hardship. I'm like a hobbit when it comes to food: I like first lunch, second lunch, tea, supper, dinner...) I got to spend time with people who I both like and admire. It was awesome.

Here are some highlights from the convention:

The Friday Night Autographing Session

The best event at World Fantasy is the Friday night
autographing session, in which all the authors plop themselves down at a table, set up a table tent with their name on it, and sign books (or programs or T-shirts or napkins) for whoever asks. I've always loved this event. Tons of authors trapped behind tables, unable to run away when you want to talk to them! Mwah-ha-ha! This year, though, it was very different because I (finally) qualified to be one of the people behind the tables!

I spent the majority of the time bouncing up and down in my seat like a deranged Gummy Bear from that 80s cartoon. I co
uldn't help it. The whole time, this little voice inside me was shouting, "I'm real! I'm real! I'm finally real!" I loved every single second of it. And I also loved where I was sitting. Here's a photo of me at the signing. Please note the awesomeness of the two people that I'm sitting between.

Autographing Session - Tamora Pierce, Me, and Bruce Coville

And FYI, by sheer coincidence, all three of us sign with purple pens!

My Panel and My Reading

On Saturday, I was on a panel with Tim Powers, Elizabeth Bunce, Margo Lanagan, and Mark Ferrari (all smart and cool peopl
e). We had a full audience, and we had microphones. Somehow, we managed to resist the urge to spend the hour singing Broadway show tunes (okay, maybe the others weren't tempted, but c'mon, microphones!), and instead we discussed archetypes. We posited that if you drill them down far enough that they become universal and are therefore really powerful writer's tools because they tap into basic wants and needs stored in our lizard brains. I'm reasonably certain that I avoided sounding like an idiot, which (as always) is one of my primary goals as I approach each day.

Afterwards, a girl approached me as I was leaving and ask
ed me to sign her book. This was AWESOME. For years, I have been watching writers be approached by readers after panels. And now it happened to me. YAY! It felt kind of like a coming-of-age moment (for me, I mean -- it probably wasn't nearly that meaningful to her, though her dad did take a photo while I signed, which was extra cool).

A couple hours later, I had my reading. I was part of a joint Young Adult Writers reading with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Tiffany Trent. I was really, really nervous for two reasons: (1) I planned to read from my upcoming novel, Out of the Wild (the sequel to Into the Wild). I'd never read from Out of the Wild in public before. In fact, the only people who had ever see
n any part of Out of the Wild were my editor, my agent, my husband, and my cat. So I had no real idea how it would be received. (2) We had a full and star-studded audience, including Scott Westerfeld, Tamora Pierce, and Jane Yolen. I very nearly chickened out and read my usual scene from Into the Wild. All through Holly and Cassie's excellent readings, my brain was going, "Into the Wild or Out of the Wild, Into the Wild or Out of the Wild, Into the Wild or..." If there had been any telepaths in the audience, I would have driven them insane.

YA Reading - Tiffany, Me, Holly, and Cassie

But I bit the bullet and read the scene from the new book, and I'm really, really happy that I did. I got laughs in the appropriate spots, and people said nice things afterward. (Yes, I thrive on praise. I am a needy, needy person.)

Awesome People (a.k.a. Lots of Name-Dropping)

Of course, the highlight of all highlights was the people.

Over the course of the weekend, I got to spend time with the wonderful Tamora Pierce. She's on my list of Favorite People in the Entire World. She's awesome. One evening, we saw a thousand geese fly over head. We watched skein after skein of them sweep over the whole of the sky. She didn't move until the last goose was gone -- that's the kind of awesome that she is. With anyone else, I would have felt like I should move along, but she understood how magical it was.

A side note: on the drive up and back to Saratoga Springs, I listened to her newest novel, Melting Stones, which was released first as an audio book from Full Cast Audio -- I highly recommend it. Luvo, the heart of a mountain, is one of the best characters she's ever created. And Full Cast Audio doesn't do ordinary audio books. It's not a single reader; it's (as the name implies) full cast, which means it's like listening to a stageplay. It's Bruce Coville's company, which brings me to another awesome-people highlight of the con: Bruce Coville and his daughter Cara, two super-fantastic people. I walked around the art show with them on Saturday and discovered that Cara and I have similar taste in art. Check out this rabbit by Omar Rayyan.

I also got to hang out quite a bit with Holly Black, Cassie Clare, Josh, and Sarah Rees Brennan. They're all so great. They totally make me laugh. Sarah and I had an extended conversation about harpooning leprechauns. (Probably best if you don't ask.) Holly and her husband Theo had a party in their room each night of the con. Friday night was the largest party and included Tiffany Trent, Catherynne Valente, Scott Westerfeld, Christopher Barzak, and others. Very, very fun.

Tiffany was one of the first people who I saw at the con. She's super-sweet. She also hangs out with bears (her husband's a wildlife biologist), which means she's also super-cool. I am jealous. I want a bear. Actually, that's not really true. What I really want is a dragon. But the griffin would probably object.

Actually, to be totally technical about it, she wasn't the first person I saw at the con. She was the first person I spoke to because of that handy-dandy snazzy invention called the cell phone, but the first person I saw was Eugene Myers (who wins extra bonus cool points for having read my blog before coming to the con). Second person I saw was the always-sweet Delia Sherman, who introduced me to Patricia McKillip.

Also had several lovely conversations with Janni Lee Simner, who I'd met online through Re_Mused (a livejournal community for writers who use fairy tales in their work). And I met Elizabeth Bunce (who founded Re_Mused). Very much enjoyed hanging out with her. This was Elizabeth's first con, and I hope I did a good job convincing her to come to others. (Yes, cons are all about peer pressure -- witness the drinking of actual Saratoga spring water in Holly's room, which tasted like [insert bad word of your choice].)

Guy Gavriel Kay was staying on the same floor of the hotel as I was so I ran into him by the elevators several times. First time I saw him, I sort of totally embarrassed myself by doing the total fangirl gushing thing. But he was really nice, and I got to talk with him several times in passing throughout the con. I also did the fangirl gushing thing at Ruth Sanderson, my favorite artist (alongside Claude Monet, who probably doesn't attend cons very often). We traded books during the autographing session (I gave her a copy of Into the Wild and signed it, and she gave me a copy of her beautiful Snow Princess and signed it).

Got to chat several times with David Coe, Michael Jones, and Christopher Golden, all of whom are really great, as well as the fantastic folks from SFRevu (Gayle, Paul, and Drew). Also met the very nice J.V. Jones and the super-sweet Maryelizabeth Hart from Mysterious Galaxy. And talked to Rob Sawyer, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Laura Anne Gilman... okay, if I try to list everyone, I'm just going to fail so I'm going to stop here and just mention one more highlight: on Sunday, I went for coffee with Garth Nix!!! I'd never met him before this weekend, but I adore his books and I was very happy to discover that he's extremely nice.

All in all, I'd say this was a vast improvement over my PB&J-in-the-car days. Can't wait for the next con!

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At 5:29 PM, Blogger Laura Anne said...

Psssst. SaraTOGA Springs. Sarasota, while nice, is in Florida. ;-)

And it was a wild WFC -- I barely had chance to run into people, much less get to see anyone twice! Sorry I didn't make it to your reading but I was hiding in the hotel room with roommate, both of us trying to make deadlines...

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Laura Anne: Oops. *ducks head in embarrassment* So close and yet so far. It's now been corrected...

SaraTOGA Springs is a lovely town. I wish I'd had a chance to see more of it. I thought the street near the convention center was really cute, and I ate in several yummy restaurants.

Hope things went well with your deadline!

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my, you lucked out with your seating placement at the signing table. Those are two wonderful people you are sitting between. Tammy is Fabulous. She is the type of person you can count the number of times you've chatted with because they all stand out. I haven't met Bruce, but I have a whole suitcase full of stuff to chat with him about. See, I live with this girl who claims to be a red dragon named Fire Ball, and its all his fault. My mother who is often required to be Moongooble has a few words for him too. Cheese, it all has to do with cheese.

But I digress. Reading your account, and Tammy's makes me horribly jealous. What a fabulous time you had! Yay for you!

At 2:55 AM, Blogger Sarah Rees Brennan said...

It was so lovely to meet you, m'dear! Come to YA drinks night and I will totally sing more country songs at you! (Is that a promise or a threat, I wonder...)

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

H: Cheese??

I really did luck out. Tammy and Bruce are both absolutely amazing.

Sarah: Lovely to meet you too! I will definitely be at drinks night. Looking forward to seeing you.

At 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bruce writes a series of books about Moongooble the Mage who turns things into cheese (mostly by mistake). This is high literature for the 4 year old set. The Full Cast Audio tapes they do of the Moongooble and Me books rock her little world.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

H: Right! I should've known that. And I totally agree with your 4-year-old about Full Cast Audio books -- they're great!

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Hey there!
Thanks for the shout-out for SFRevu! It was a real pleasure meeting you, and hope we'll be able to talk again in person one of these days.
all best,
PS, I think you're right, Terry Brooks is way cool.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Drew said...

PPS, the reading was incredible. All of you were absolutely great (heck, it inspired me to buy Cassandra's book on the spot!)


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