Roundtable: Conventions Part I, Going Pro

Cecelia Holland

Oh, thanks. And here that night at Antioch motor speedway was the highlight of my life.

John Clute
Good comments on panels and panel etiquette, certainly as it applies to avoiding the impression we’re on panels to sell our wares. Unless the quality of our wares can be defined as the fitness to the panel topic of what we say. Which almost certainly excludes referencing one’s own books (and absolutely excludes referencing one’s own books solely).

I remember one WorldCon in particular, almost certain it was Boston 2004. I had a panel to do, but was slated to be absent for the first five minutes in order to help present an award (no memory what award it was, maybe the Cordwainer Smith when WorldCons still housed it). My absence was announced and apologized for in advance. When I got to the panel, a self-publishing author had spread her wares not only in front of her own patch but over mine as well. As politely as I wished to be, I moved enough of them so I could see the audience. The look she gave me was sour. She said very little during the course of the panel, except to mention her latest publication a few times.

Gary K. Wolfe
As a young academic, I started off by going to Science Fiction Research Association conferences in odd places like Staten Island or Cedar Falls, Iowa. But some of those early SFRAs were pretty spectacular–at Cedar Falls in 1978, for example, I first met Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Joe & Gay Haldeman, Gordon Dickson, Darko Suvin, Robert Scholes, Eric Rabkin, and Brian Aldiss (who was the Pilgrim Award recipient that year). They even published a “Proceedings” volume, which is probably one of the rarer items in my SF criticism collection.

That led me to test the waters on fan cons, but the first couple of local ones I attended near Chicago weren’t that impressive. A few years later the World Fantasy Convention landed in a Chicago suburb. By then I’d gotten to know Philip Jose Farmer, and when he invited me to lunch along with Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber, I got a taste of what it felt like to be an insider, and WFC became one of my favorite cons, though I didn’t start making them regularly until sometime after 2000. That and the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (a sort of half-con, half academic conference, which at least makes it somewhat comprehensible to my academic colleagues), are, along with Readercon, about the only ones I try to make on a regular basis.

I did, along the way, attend a couple of Worldcons here in Chicago, but even then they seemed almost unmanageable. My most bizarre convention experience was undoubtedly a Star Trek convention in the mid-1970s. One of my students was heavily involved in organizing it–purely as a business venture, since she had almost no interest in SF–and she asked me to come up with names of writers to invite. I don’t remember the full list, but Dickson, Farmer, Bloch, and Ellison were on it, and I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’d met Harlan. Because of my involvement, I got some sort of special “crew” badge, so I spent much of the con hanging out in the executive suite at the Conrad Hilton with the show’s cast members and the various writers I’d invited. I had no real interest in attending the giant events scheduled in the hotel ballrooms, but later learned the convention drew something like 14,000. The oddest thing was my student’s habit of paying the per diems for all the guests in gold dollar coins. I still have no idea where she got them.

Paul Witcover
I don’t recall all the particulars of my first con, but it was held in Baltimore at some point in the early 80s, I believe, and coincided with Poe’s birthday. I attended with a friend of mine. One high point was watching Fritz Lieber read The Raven at Poe’s grave. One expected him, when finished, to open up a casket and crawl inside. Another was attending a panel that featured Stephen King, among others. He sat down with a brown paper bag, opened it, and pulled out a six pack of beer, which he proceeded to drink from as the panel progressed. I’ve often thought in the years since, when I’ve been trapped on hijacked or just plain boring panels, that I should have followed his example. But on the whole I prefer to do my con drinking in bars and at room parties. I used to spend quite a bit of time in the dealers’ room, but since I can’t afford anything I see there, my enjoyment has petered out: now I take a turn or two at most, and even that seems to involve more chatting than browsing. One thing I absolutely love about cons is the opportunity to hear writers read from their work. It’s fun and can be surprisingly illuminating. If I could only choose to hear panels or readings, I should choose the latter without hesitation. Hearing John Crowley read was an eye-opening experience; it gave me an insight into his prose that I never would have experienced from the page alone. Ditto with Jeff Ford, Liz Hand, or any number of other excellent writers who are also amazing readers.
Rich Horton

My first con was ConQuesT, in Kansas City, in about 1998. I was fortunate in having been urged to come by Dave Truesdale, who knew plenty of people and introduced me widely. Perhaps for that reason ConQuesT remains my favorite con — I know more people there and feel more comfortable.

I quickly started attending my more local con, Archon, as well. The first couple of times there I had the same experience some others have reported at other cons — I was too shy to introduce myself to anyone and felt a bit lonely and disconnected. This has certainly gotten better over time.

The only other con I’ve attended is Windycon, on Steve Silver’s invitation. (It’s also convenient as it is reasonably close to my parents’ place, and I can stay with them.)

I’ve always really enjoyed panels, both as an audience member and as a panelist. And the dealer’s room is a constant treasure, for the old books and magazines, and the less readily available new books.

I have a few cons on my “really want to get to” list — Readercon, for sure. And Wiscon someday (except it conflicts with ConQuesT.) And of course a Worldcon (next year in Chicago, for sure!) and a World Fantasy. It’s a bit hard to travel far, though, because my wife has no interest in SF and would simply feel left out.

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