Readings and panels and autographs, oh my! We'll need a hotel to hold us all -- no, a convention center!
Of course, "the convention phenomenon" did not come about in exactly this way. It evolved along many diverse paths, and each con has its own flavor. Some focus more on books, others on media (film) or graphic novels or anime or serious literary and political discussion. I picked up an ad for "GeekGirlCon," whose goal -- loosely paraphrased -- is the support of women in all aspects of the sciences and science fiction. Cons can vary from year to year. Things can go spectacularly right, or just as spectacularly wrong, with the hotel, the guests, the organization, the programming, the economy.
Setting all that aside, one of the most interesting aspects of attending a convention -- besides getting to meet wonderful writers and equally wonderful fans -- is the experience of running away to a world of kindred spirits. In our everyday lives, we're spread out geographically. We have jobs and stuff to attend to. But for two or three or four days, we're part of a different community. We meet and talk, in groups both big (Opening Ceremonies) and intimate; we eat together, sing together, watch cult films, ride elevators, transform the hotel lobby into a central meeting place filled with fantastical characters.
At some conventions, my focus is on those events for which I'm scheduled -- panels, readings, autograph sessions, pro guest at writers workshops. In between, especially if I have a busy schedule, I need down time, and if I'm commuting I can't retreat to my hotel room, so I'll hang out at the green room, if there is one, or the con suite, or some quiet corner. Almost always, there will be other writers (or editors) with whom I have some business of the professional networking sort. I try to balance that and making myself available to readers and fans, and making a tour of the dealer's rooms, chatting with book sellers and signing their stock of my novels. Sometimes, that's about all I do.
When I can, I try to get to at least a few panels and readings at each con. It's a treat to sit back and listen to a thoughtful, stimulating discussion or to discover a new author. Not all panels fulfill those criteria; there are many that I simply aren't interested in. But well-structured programming almost always offers something new to learn, new ideas or old ideas put together in new ways, and people I haven't yet met but with whom I share interests and passions.
No matter how tired I am after a con, I come home feeling nourished and charged up to write. My con report, with lots of name-dropping and specifics, is here.