There’s a good reason for this question: if you haven’t already noticed, we’ve been hanging out at the Eaton Conference in Riverside, California; if you have noticed, then I’m not contributing anything interesting and will move on.
The entire conference was absolutely amazing and we thought it would be a great idea to see what other kinds of experiences folks have had at conferences or conventions. Thanks to John Ottinger and Patrick Hester for their responses!
Now for the answers:
There are so many to list. Really. I’ve walked through an anime convention with cat ears and a tail, my brother alongside me in the same garb. I’ve run RPG campaigns at conventions which turned out to be slightly insane and a whole lot of violence and fun (you should ask my brother about the time he played Rifts with us and kept getting knocked out every two seconds). Heck, I’ve even met the guy who created Evangelion and watched Star Wars fan films in scary back rooms!
But I have to say that, thus far, my experiences at the Eaton Conference have been the best. Not only did I get to meet a great deal of people I greatly respect, whether as scholars (John Rieder, Carl Freedman, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., De Witt Douglas Kilgore, and others) or authors (China Mieville, Greg Benford, Karen Tei Yamashita, etc.), and hang out with one of my bestest best friends of best-ness, but I also got to meet the person I was actually presenting on: Nalo Hopkinson.
My first encounter with her involved me essentially embarrassing myself: I quite literally went up to her, stopped for several seconds, and blurted out “Hi, you talk to me on Twitter.” I got the impression that she deals with such things quite often, as she took it in stride as Jen rescued me from my bumbling self. More normal encounters followed (to be honest, by the time the conference was over, I had mostly normalized, which is kind of a little late to get over your fanboy nonsense) and I had a lovely conversation with her after my presentation about her work, general nice things, and other writers. It was awesome! Similar things happened with other authors, such as China Mieville, who also had to deal with my fanboy nonsense until early Sunday, in which I was apparently coherent enough to hold a conversation. The only exception was Karen Yamashita, who actually teaches at my alma mater (UC Santa Cruz); for some reason we had quite a lot to talk about already, since we had both experienced the amusing antics of one of my previous professors.
Overall, though, I think the experience was a good one, because I haven’t been in a single space with so many people who I have read, loved, and so on. Needless to say, the experience was pretty much all kinds of awesome.
Unfortunately, the second person I was talking about in my paper wasn’t there (where were you, Tobias S. Buckell?), but since I basically stalk him on Twitter anyway, I can at least pretend he was there in spirit. That said, one day I will have my bumbling fanboy moment with you, Mr. Buckell. One day…
I realize we’re coming off of a very exciting weekend at a conference, but my best conference/convention memory is actually from my childhood.
My father started attending a gaming convention called “Conquest” when I was fairly young. He went for the dungeons and dragons and when I got a bit older he started running gaming sessions for my friends and I. Those were some very formative experiences for me and I remember them very fondly. Anyway, eventually my parents started taking a whole crew of us up to the convention and let us run wild. I think we were the only kids in these early years, as my father was one of those early adopters of role-playing games and, likewise, an early attender of gaming conventions. Anyway, the most memorable moment for me is actually running through those halls (it was at a hotel up near San Francisco that looked vaguely castle-like) and generally creating havoc – creating our own live d&d adventures. The specific moment though was probably when we decided it would be fun to stop the elevator between floors and open the doors. I have no idea what I read on the wall, at that moment, but I do remember knowing, with absolute certainty, that it was written by a geek and that they had written it for US.
Second most memorable experience was driving around with a dear friend of mine during a Dundracon and imagining that all the corporate buildings that surrounded the hotel were straight out of Stephenson’s Diamond Age. I miss you, Anicka.
I’ve had a number of cool con moments since then, but they’ve all been very personal moments that didn’t necessarily require a con for them to have occurred. The things that make Cons special though are those moments that do require the convention to bring together a geographically disparate group that are all so strongly tied together by whatever that con happens to be about. That meeting of minds is truly Epic.
Well, there’s favorite and then there’s memorable.
Memorable first. I grew up in Fresno, California. Fresno… There’s not a lot to do in Fresno when you’re growing up. I spent a lot of time in the comic book store or at the Fresno State Student Union (where all the kids hung out…) shooting pool or bowling ($3/hr all you can play…). Anyway, I saw a flier that Creation was coming to town to do a Star Trek convention. This was when The Next Generation was hot. I really wanted to go so I talked a friend of mine (who had a car, which I did not) to drive me (it was further out in the country than I could go on my mountain bike, which was my preferred mode of transportation through my early 20’s).
As we walked up from the parking lot, there was this guy standing there in full Borg attire. He had to suit, the laser eye, the tubes everywhere – it was just utterly fantastic.
…and he was smoking a cigarette, which totally destroyed the illusion and made us laugh.
“We are the Borg. Existence as you know- Dammit, where’s Fred? Fred? Has anyone seen Fred?”
“He’s outside taking a smoke break.”
“Oh for crying out.. all right, fine. We’ll assimilate this culture when he’s done. He doesn’t want to miss this one – they have these things on their.. and it’s all – oh, I can’t describe it and do it any justice, he’ll just have to see it for himself.”
Ah, favorite – has to be last years (2010) World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
I put myself on sabbatical from these sort of things for many years (nearly a decade) while I worked on becoming a better writer. Also, conventions tend to be very expensive for me as I have a compulsive need to BUY EVERYTHING I SEE. So, I hadn’t been around people who share my interests and passions for scifi & fantasy in quite some time. The people were incredibly warm and friendly and I could talk about Doctor Who or how Mat Cauthon really is the star of the Wheel of Time series and not have people look at me like I’m from another planet. I was able to meet people in person that I’d only known online, solidifying those relationships and I met loads of new and interesting folks that I chat with nearly every day thanks to the power of Twitter and Facebook. Really, truly a fantastic experience and one I hope to repeat again and again.
“The Forgotten Author”
Patrick Rothfuss smiled deprecatingly through his bushy beard. “I guess this is it.”
I glanced around the ballroom that had been set up for signings. The space, set up with dividers that could divide the large, low-ceilinged area into three was wide open. Down at the far end of the hall, a famous SF author had a line in front of him that snaked back out into the corridor. Next door, a triumvirate of urban fantasy authors presented court to many ladies (and not a few men) eager to see author autographs adorn their books. Rothfuss’, on the other hand, had a surprisingly low turnout for his own book signing. It was Dragon*Con 2008, and I was at my very first convention.
The entrance to Rothfuss’ signing had twisted and turned, making it difficult to find the right door, but I had made it. But for a long time I was the only one. I had, as per my usual punctiliousness, arrived slightly early, hoping to be at the front of a line I expected to be quite long. Though Rothfuss was only a debut novelist that year, with only one epic fantasy, The Name of the Wind, to his credit, but the internet had been aflame with his name and the trials and tribulations of his character Kvothe. So, not unreasonably, I expected Rothfuss’ book signing to be jam-packed.
I had been there not ten minutes when a fellow fan arrived. The middle-aged woman clutched her copy tightly to her chest, as if it were a talisman. We gave each other a friendly nod, as one does at these larger conventions, but said nothing. We waited. And waited. We passed the official start time for the signing. Then five minutes passed. Then another five. Then the tromp of a single person’s could be heard in the corridor. Rothfuss rushed in, quickly laying his heavy-looking box of books down on the raised dais that had been set up for him, apologizing for being a little late, saying that he too had difficulty finding the room set aside for him. He set the box down, sat down quickly, and after grasping a signing pen, finally paused to look at how many had arrived for his signing. There were two.
This was by no means Rothfuss’ fault. A late addition to the Dragon*Con program, Rothfuss’ very appearance at the Con, let alone this signing, was such a late announcement that only those who picked up the daily periodical for the Con would have known about it. And on a campus spanning three hotels and approximately 30,000 participants, it was rather difficult to find a print copy of the Daily Dragon. Rothfuss had been given an unused signing slot in the middle of the day on Saturday, the busiest day of the Con, a reading later that afternoon, and a couple of panel appearances, including one on Whedon. But that was it for the hottest (to hear people talk about him) epic fantasy author to publish since George R. R. Martin released A Game of Thrones.
After signing our books (her hardback, my review copy mass market paperback courtesy of DAW) there was still a half hour to kill. It was unlikely that fans were going to arrive – if they were coming, they probably would have come early for the same reason I did – so we were free to use the time as we liked. The woman who I had assumed to be shy stepped right up and started firing off questions to Rothfuss about his characters, his writing, and his obsession with Joss Whedon. I stood there dumbly – it was my first Con, and I was still a little in awe of MEETING AUTHORS – but after a while got into the conversation as well. This was what I had been craving when I signed up to attend Dragon*Con. I wanted the close, personal interaction with an author with all the barriers of time constraints, long lines, and author mystique brought down.
Like his character Kvothe, Rothfuss is a jongleur, a person that melds music with his words so well that the listener is enraptured even when the topics are mundane. Rothfuss waxed eloquent on his favorite subject, Joss Whedon, answered my fumbling attempts at questions with grace, and gently but carefully refused my attempts to foist a Grasping for the Wind business card on him for when he next needed a review. (I was so arrogant back then about the nature of review blogging. I hope I have mellowed out since.) So the three of us – Rothfuss, myself, and the anonymous female fan – chatted right up until the time he had to leave for his reading.
Undisturbed as it was, it couldn’t have been a more ideal half hour.. In the midst of the chaos and hurly-burly that is Dragon*Con, we three were an idyllic paradise, a place where fan met author, and author met reader. It was like being in the Waystone Inn on a slow night, and Rothfuss was Kvothe, Chronicler, and Bast in one, with we two fans just a couple of barflies listening to a lyre player’s tales. Patrick Rothfuss was the forgotten author that day, but I will always remember him.
What about you? What was your best conference or convention experience? Let us know in the comments!