My first con was WisCon in 2001. Absolutely magical experience. (It helped that I went with my then-very-new-girlfriend, now wife, Heather Shaw.) I met Kelly Link, and Terri Windling and Midori Snyder, reconnected with some of my Clarion (class of ’99) teachers and fellow classmates, and encountered a bunch of people who would, over the years, become close friends and colleagues.
I hit a few panels, saw a bunch of readings, but mostly did Hallway Con, just having conversations with people about SF and art and philosophy and life and booze and altered states and other things until the wee hours.
What I remember most was the feeling of excitement about writing the con generated in me, the sense that I was among a rising tide of youngish talented people who, though they were just starting to publish stories, would eventually become well-known and respected in the field — and, indeed, that cohort has been popping up on award ballots and in best-of anthologies and publishing their novels in the years since. I was invigorated and inspired.
I’ve been to WisCon most years since then, and it’s my favorite con, mostly because it’s frequented by a large percentage of my favorite people. I know it can get cliquish and that some people find that offputting, and I recognize it as a valid problem, but it’s pretty much always been a great place for me. But I pretty much inhabit a con-within-a-con that revolves around hanging out with various far-flung friends.
(I could tell tales of John Klima’s room parties and the strange concoctions imbibed therein, or of that party where Greg van Eekhout did his stellar imitation of a vacuum cleaner, or the long conversation I had with Hal Duncan where I managed to comprehend at least one word in three, but I’m not sure they’re strictly mine to tell!)
My first con was Disclave in May 1988. I went with novelist Richard Grant and Steve Brown, editor of the late, great SF Eye. I didn’t know anyone else, but Richard and especially Steve knew everyone, and I met several people who became good friends and colleagues, including Mike Dirda, David Streitfeld, Takayuki Tatsumi, and Mari Kotani. Mari made an indelible impression by thrusting a camera in my face and exclaiming, “For Japanese Fandom!” I don’t remember any panels; just parties. A few months later I went to Worldcon in New Orleans, a fabulous time. I flew down with my friend Paul Witcover and Steve Brown and again, I remember virtually nothing of any panels, just a constant round of parties and hanging out with writers and editors. John Shirley was especially memorable, as was a late-night visit to a house where a couple of practicing neo-pagans lived, who showed us a rather alarming shed in their backyard where they held rituals (not that night, fortunately). Steve knew everyone, and again I met folks who became lifelong friends and colleagues, like Chris Schelling, John Silbersack, and especially Martha Millard, who became my agent and dear friend. Steve was really my portal the the SF world — I went to my first Readercon with him, too, in 1989, and met Paul DiFillippo, Deb Newton, Scott Edelman, and Terry Bisson, and spent a memorable hour or two at a table with Steve, John Crowley, Chip Delany, Tom Disch, and David Hartwell. I was paralyzed with self-consciousness and did not utter a word. A year later I returned to Readercon, pregnant with my daughter, and met John Crowley again, this time with Paul Park. I heard Terry Bisson read “Bears Discover Fire,” a transformative moment for me — that was the first time I realized how powerful a reading could be. I always recall the great kindness and generosity folks showed me when I didn’t know anyone, and I try to remember that now, when I see a new face in a crowd of people who already know each other. You’re never too old to make new friends.
Liz’s post reminds me of my very first ICFA. It was my second convention, and I think I’d had one story come out at that point. I didn’t know many people, but everyone was so incredibly welcoming. And at the banquet, Liz invited me to sit at her table, right up front. So there I was between her and John Clute! I was more shy back then (teaching for ten years takes the shy out of you), and I was rather overwhelmed, especially to be sitting with Famous Writers and Critics. But I still remember how kind she was to a complete newbie. That’s that I remember most about SFF conventions: what welcoming spaces they are. They’re completely different from academic conferences.
Going to my first few conventions, I felt very much what Ellen Klages said: that this was my tribe. And I was grateful to find it.