Friday, December 2, 2011

Loscon: Some General Thoughts on Conventions

The very first convention I attended, before I had any professional story publication credits, was Fantasy Worlds Festival in Berkeley, put on by Marion Zimmer Bradley and her staff. Around 1980, I'd written her a fan letter and she'd written back. Knowing that I studied martial arts, she invited me and my sparring partner to work security (and also give a demonstration) for her convention. I knew nothing of conventions, so I had visions of staying up all night, dealing with one crisis after another, and was relieved to find everyone friendly and well-mannered, at least in the public areas. I had no idea of the delights of thoughtful, lively panel discussions, a dealer's room full of books, jewelry, and music, and the wonderful costumes, not to mention a whole weekend spent with kindred spirits and fellow book lovers. Not long after that, I made my first professional sale to Marion for the first Sword & Sorceress (DAW, 1984) and began taking this writing business seriously.

At that time, I lived on the west side of Los Angeles. I soon discovered that LA (more precisely, LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) had its own convention, LosCon, which met every Thanksgiving weekend. For quite a few years, I was a regular attender, commuting from home. Then came a period of time when my family alternated Thanksgivings between Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley area, juggling the demands of home and more-distant relatives (who did not understand that fellowship trumps turkey). After I moved north, my attendance became even more irregular. It's been quite a few years since my last LosCon, it's in a different hotel (not to mention a different city, moving from Burbank to near LAX) from the one I knew way back when, but there is still a sense of homecoming, that this was "my local convention" as I was coming of age as a writer.

I think every regional convention develops its own flavor and character. Guests of honor change every year, and members come and go, but there usually is a core of participants and organizers, many of whom are volunteers who put in immense amounts of time and dedication to creating these transient gatherings. I loved walking into the hotel and greeting friends I may not have seen since the last convention, a process repeated year after year.

People attend conventions for all sorts of reasons -- to talk about books, their own or those they love to read -- to sing or dance -- to indulge in nonstop gaming -- to walk around in costumes and strut their stuff at the Masquerade -- to collect autographs -- to buy or sell stuff in the dealer's room -- to party (and get drunk and hope to get laid) -- to display their work in the Art Show (or to view it and maybe add to their own collections) -- to hobnob with fellow writers -- to listen to panels on writing, science fiction and fantasy, fannish lifestyles, politics, space exploration, you name it -- to watch anime (Japanese animation) for hours -- to hear directors or actors or artists talk about their work.

Me, I dance do this dance: I'm signed up to do a certain number of events (in this case, two panels, but it's often more, including readings and autograph sessions), and if there are friends I haven't seen for a time, I try to schedule lunch or dinner with them (true this time, with the added bonus that my older daughter lives in the area, so my Saturday dinner is spoken for). I always take a tour through the Dealer's Room early in the convention, so I can advise fans where to go to find my work, and to offer to sign copies; this comes under the heading of supporting book dealers. I also look over the program to see what panels I would like to listen to, as well.

So much for good intentions. It never works out that way. Unless I'm actually on a panel, in which case I have a professional obligation to get myself there (and on time), conventions all too often become a progression of impromptu reunions and introductions. One WorldCon in San Francisco -- it must have been 1994 or so -- we had to walk a couple of blocks between the hotel and the convention center, passing a construction zone. Each time I made the trip, it took me longer because there were more such meetings and greetings, two-minute conversations with heartfelt and sincere agreements to talk more at a quieter time (with the understanding that we would not, in fact, find such a time at a convention this size). It was also quite wonderful to see the expressions on the faces of the construction workers as the costumes got more colorful and imaginative. Klingons and pirates and sword-wielding women in eensie-weensie brass bikinis, oh my.


  1. I remember than convention in San Francisco. It was my first one. :-)

  2. I'll bet we saw one another among the hordes...