Roundtable: Conventions Part I, Going Pro

Karen Burnham

I asked our venerable Roundtable panel about conventions and the con-going experience. I got a huge number of responses that cover a wide range of practical and subjective aspects of this part of the sf/f culture. I decided to break up the responses to cover separate themes, and spread them out over two or three weeks. It seems appropriate to surround WorldCon (which I must sadly miss this year), with discussions about conventions.

This first installment looks at the experience of going to conventions as a pro. Read on for perspectives from Marie Brennan, Cecelia Holland, Terry Bisson, John Clute, Gary K. Wolfe, Paul Witcover, Rich Horton, James Patrick Kelly, and Rachel Swirsky.

As always, this discussion is broken up into multiple pages for ease of reading. If you’d like to read it all on a single page, select ‘View All’ from the drop down menu above. If you don’t see the drop down menu, please click here.

Marie Brennan

Early con-going stories? First panel I was ever on was at World Fantasy… first panel of the con… with the Guest of Honor as one of the panelists… while I had a whopping one short story to my name… and I was moderating.

Yeah, no pressure.

Funny thing was, ten minutes into the panel, I realized my nervousness had completely vanished. In fact, the whole thing felt kinda familiar. And that’s when I realized that moderating a panel is a good deal like leading discussion in a grad school seminar, only with less name-dropping of Derrida and Foucault.

I quite like doing panels. (I even like moderating them — I’ve been lucky and have never had a real problem panelist to deal with.) At World Fantasy, I always opt for a panel over a reading; I figure the latter is mostly likely to draw in fans of my work (by which I mean whatever friends of mine in attendance at the con I can drag into the room), whereas the former will introduce me to people who don’t already know who I am. My approach to panels is that I do my best to be interesting on whatever the topic is, and then afterward, hopefully a few people will remember my name, with positive associations.

Beyond that, they’re good for networking in the “make friends with people” sense of the word, and sometimes for more organized business, like having dinner with my editor. But mostly they’re a chance to make this job social instead of solitary. Do I learn things? Yes, albeit generally during conversations in the bar or the hallway or at dinner, rather than from the panels themselves. But that’s at least half because panel topics get very, very repetitive after a while. We could use some more innovation on that front.

Cecelia Holland

The first con I ever went to was the World Fantasy Con at Calloway Gardens, sometime back in the 80’s.

My career was tanking (again) and I felt like something the business was trying to scrape off its shoe. I thought I was over. Charles Brown, pbuh, recognizing my despair, took me down to Georgia, and I found a new life there. I felt at home there. I had never been around so many writers, and the word-carnival atmosphere was thrilling. A lot of people whose work I admired knew mine, and I made invaluable new connections. I came back from the dead there.

Ever since I’ve loved going to WFC, almost the only con I go to. I love the sense of belonging, first, but also there’s a level of conversation and critical thinking you don’t get anywhere else. It’s a major garden of ideas, of contacts and leads, a living world of writers. (I’ve been to ReaderCon and ICFA too and find the same yeasty intellectual vigor). When I’m tucked in back here in the wilderness I am still somehow connected to a bigger place. So bless Charles Brown, and bless WFC.

Terry Bisson

My first con was a tiny thing at Columbia University in NY. There were only two writers and two editors, so I met and spent the day hanging out with Tom Disch, Ellen Datlow and Alice Turner. My life has been downhill ever since.

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