Warning! There is Mr. Earbrass style hand-wringing in this post. Should you be of a sensitive nature, or just don’t want to deal with it, please close the browser window right now!
With that said, I’ve decided to break up my thoughts into a few large bullet points.
- This year, WFC shared its conference facilities with the annual meeting of Rolling Thunder participants. This meant two very hard drinking groups were staying in the hotel, and at the bar. My condolences to the barfolks, who seemed completely overwhelmed. When you are running out of Yuengling tap and bottle, you know hard times are here.That said, I think this was a fortuitous meeting. Given the WWI related panels, having a veterans organization in the house made a lot of sense. And they certainly seemed to enjoy mingling with the authors.
- With regards to the WWI themed programming, I’m quite happy to see a poppy was given out with every badge. There was also a wonderful reading of “In Flanders Fields” during the opening ceremonies. As for the programming itself, it certainly gave me a list of things to consider. The First World War is in danger of becoming a forgotten war, especially amongst the Americans. Given my family history, it’s impossible for me to treat it as such. From my home office I can see my great grandfather’s epaulets. I know the horrors my family suffered through. The war changed everything, for good or ill, and it must be remembered with clear eyes, and a reverence for those on all sides who fell.
- One thing did hit an off-chord. During a panel on Military fantasy, both fantasy which takes place outside of the medieval milieu and ones which focus on the heart of the military experience, the panelists left off a women from the discussion. They had many examples of male authors which ‘got it right’ but no women were mentioned. I’d have to point to at least two examples: Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion books and Mary Gentle’s Ash: A Secret History.The latter is a favorite of mine, and gives you the sense the author has done her miles in full armor. (Which, if I remember correctly, she did. The reenactors in Europe don’t mess about. A friend showed me footage of a Polish group in full armor with unpadded swords…) But I think this shows a blind side in perceptions of war and women we still must overcome.
- Books and discoveries – First, I have to thank the conference for highlighting Robert Aickman’s work. He’s been added to my to-read list without fail. I look forward to reading his stories while keeping the scholarly discussions of his works in mind. As for books: well, I did find myself walking out with a copy of deluxe hardcover edition of Embrace the Mutation, signed by all the contributors and with a chapbook featuring J.K. Potter’s art and a story by Caitlin R. Kiernan, who was gracious enough to sign it for me later at the conference.And I got my hands on a first edition hardcover of Tanith Lee’s Sounds and Furies. This one was apparently rushed into print as a review copy to time with Lee’s appearance at the World Horror Convention. One can never have too much Tanith Lee in the house.
- And at the end of the whole experience, I did my best to help take down the art show. This brought back memories of the days when I was art show crew for some cons. I missed the physicality of the work. There’s a unique sense of accomplishment when the pipes go up or the room is cleared after the show is done. But it did also trigger memories of art shows past, and drama tied to said shows, and some of the people I met through them.The past is the past, except when it isn’t.
The last section deals with the handwringing. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve one last chance before you’re trapped.
I warned you..
Mr. Earbrass and the Crisis of Faith
Before heading to the conference, I tried to put myself in the mindset of “Think of this as an academic conference. You’re here to learn and collect.” But there was a whisper, always a whisper, which said, “And market yourself! Get in there, get networking, press the flesh. It’s not what you can do, it’s who you know.”
Coming from the grassroots/government relations/lobbying world this old saw still has sharp teeth. Being drinking buddies with someone who could get you access to the right legislator’s staff at the right time is more valuable than gold. So there is a constant pressure to get out there, get your name recognized, get your business card in people’s wallets and have them remember, “Hey, he bought me a drink that one time.”
And when you’re an introvert, who hasn’t had a publication credit in over a decade, still trying to make is way through revising novels and banging stories into submittable shape, the notion of BarCon, where everyone is wheeling and dealing and making contacts, scares the living fuck out of you.
I started smacking myself around for not spending more time at the bar, for choosing panels over person time, for treating this like any other conference. At one point, I remember saying to myself “You’re here to network, not have fun.”
At which point I quietly collapsed and said, “I can’t do this.”
Writing is one of my joys in life. There’s a specific joy I get when I read something I’ve written and forget the author entirely. Since the first time I made a picture book about a robot and his robot dog, it’s been one of my joys. But I’ve had to keep it to myself for the longest time, or put what I’ve learned from storytelling to use for other masters.
My day job has me writing thousands of words a day, or storytelling to clients as I try to explain to them how representative democracy actually works. The writing I do outside this world lets me dream and explore beyond the utilitarian necessities of the dayjob. And now, those two worlds collide, with one threatening to take the joy out of the other.
It took a friend at the conference to shake me free. We had a good, long talk, where she reminded me I don’t have to sell myself. Agents and editors can spot a hard sell right away, and it sours the joy in their work, too. I ran into a hard sell earlier in the day. What was a great conversation about writing and film-making quickly turned into a pitch for an Amazon book. The pressure is there to go right into the marketing and the business. The writing is almost irrelevant when you think about it in those terms.
And I don’t ever want the writing to be irrelevant. That’s what brings us all here. That’s what brings the people I adore reading to WFC. Listening to Peter Straub and Caitlin R. Keirnan on the Coode Street Podcast was almost an affirmation on high. Would-be authors like me always put the cart before the horse. I need to focus on the writing, focus on the craft, focus on submitting and seeing what sticks. When the business side comes a knocking, then I can play lobbyist.
So, in the end, I think WFC strengthened my faith rather than diminished it.
Unless this cold I have turns out to be ConCrud. Then all bets are off.