Continuing our discussion of conventions and convention-going (Part I is here), in this installment we look at those of us who started out as fans. Today’s stories and commentary come from F. Brett Cox, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Russell Letson, Marie Brennan, Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Cecelia Holland, and Paul Graham Raven.
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F. Brett Cox
The first convention I ever attended was the 1974 WorldCon in Washington, D.C., Discon II. I was a teenage sf fan, deeply immersed in fanzine fandom and desperate to attend this magic meeting that was happening relatively close to where I lived in North Carolina. My ever-cautious parents agreed only because my older brother would be accompanying me, and my older brother agreed only because Roger Zelazny was the guest of honor. It was an amazing experience for a sheltered boy–there’s Isaac Asimov! There’s Harlan Ellison! Oh my god I’m talking with Roger Zelazny! It was also my first experience with meeting people for the first time and having them sortakinda know who I was. Examine the convention membership list and you will find such future luminaries as Bruce Sterling and Scott Edelman, both almost as young as I. There are pictures from the convention online, and these images of the voluptuous seventies, from the men’s shirts to the hotel walls, seem as distant and startling as a color photograph of a Victorian parlor.
The next year I attended Artkane, a small oneoff convention just down the road in Wilmington, NC, where I met Kelly Freas and saw Dr. Strangelove for the first time. I didn’t go to another sf con until the 1986 Worldcon in Atlanta. More followed.
My first con was World Fantasy in 1984, in Chicago. I was 26 years old and still very much the goggle-eyed fan who kept slapping his forehead in disbelief that he was in the same room(s) as the writers whose work he’d idolized for years. Fast forward a decade and there I was, attending World Fantasy in New Orleans because I’d just finished judging for it. In those 10 years, I’d written lots of reviews and essays, compiled or written a score of books, and edited a few semi-prozines. I didn’t consider myself a “professional” then, and probably never will. But I now think of conventions as things to go and hang out with friends and colleagues at–some of those friends and colleagues being the very writers whose work I worshiped as a fan. (Sort of like participating in these Locus Roundtables.)
I enjoy attending panels, especially when there are friends on them I can heckle from the audience. And I enjoy participating in them. I agree with Marie that I often pick up more in casual conversation at the bar than at the panels. (Maybe cons need more bars and fewer panels.) Part of me still misses that thrill of fannish excitement I felt the first time I walked into a room with all of those writer-gods.
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