I attended my first Worldcon last week (aka MidAmeriCon II). It was in Kansas City, MO, an interesting little big town. Or so it felt in the area the convention center was in. We were surrounded by big, tall buildings and pricey restaurants, but there was hardly any traffic. I suspect this had something to do with the buses and street cars. Still, those exist in Denver, and there's still tons of traffic. Kansas City was a pleasant place to be, and perfect for the Con. And as it was only nine hours away, a group of us drove out instead of flying.
You guys know I attend a few conferences and conventions, and that I tend to come back from them on a big, exhilarated high. Not so much this time. Before we get to that, though, I'd like to talk about the good. How about a Top Ten (in no particular order)?
10. Quality programming. I'd been told you don't go to Worldcon for the programming, but for the networking. (More about that later). However, the programming was solid, as far as I was concerned. I will likely never attend another Con that is so short story friendly. Usually, as a female horror short story author, I'm in the mega minority, and I sometimes have trouble finding panels I'm truly interested in, but there were so many great short story panels, each involving various editors, such as Neil Clarke, Jason Sizemore, Sheila Williams, Jonathan Strahan, and the amazing Ellen Datlow (long-time fan of her anthologies), as well as a couple short story authors. Again, I doubt I will ever see all these editors, people who have rejected my stories (hahaha - okay, only two of the above editors have rejected me), all in one place like this again. John Joseph Adams was also there (I've certainly been rejected by Nightmare), but I didn't see him on any panels. A mutual friend introduced us out in the hall Friday, I think it was.
9. Yummy food. We went to Jack Stack for BBQ, which came highly recommended by locals. We had a large party, so we got a semi-private room with sliding doors (super fun to open and close them with flair...ask me how I know.) Other restaurants we ate at (and enjoyed, though service wasn't always great) were The Flying Saucer, The Yard House, and Cosentino's, which is actually a grocery store, but had tasty, convenient food. And dessert! That was the only night we got dessert. It wasn't a big thing around there.
8. Astronauts! Admittedly, I haven't outgrown thinking astronauts are cool. I attended a talk given by Jeanette Epps, a NASA engineer. She talked about the training they go through, and had a fun slideshow with all kinds of photos from it.
7. Attending a George R.R. Martin reading. He read a snippet from Dances With Dragons, a not-yet-published prequel to the Game of Thrones series. How often does one get that opportunity?
6. Finding a book I'm in at one of the dealer's tables. Fun surprise! It was Once Upon a Scream. I have since been informed that I should have offered to sign the books they had on hand. My mistake is your lesson! Always offer to sign a book if you happen across it. I heard this from both authors and a bookseller. And an editor! So just do it. Apparently, it doesn't make you a narcissist, even if it feels like it does.
5. Friend time. I got to spend time with friends, some of whom I don't see very often, and made a few new ones. And I was lucky enough to share my hotel room with a friend it's always fun to travel with, to enjoy some pre-event wine a couple times, and to have a night in, where we skipped the bar and just chatted and read. This was incredibly valuable downtime in a busy week. And a shared bottle of wine in a hotel room with a good friend will beat Bar Con any day.
4. Attending the Hugo Awards was a cool experience, and one each speculative fiction author should have the opportunity to do at least once. Pat Cadigan was a phenomenal hostess, quite funny and personable, and she kept things rolling right along, with the help of her minion.
3. I got to briefly meet fellow blogger John Wiswell of the Bathroom Monologues. It's always pleasant to finally meet in person someone you have spoken to online for awhile, even if it is just posts back and forth. He was preparing for a panel, so I just said a quick hello, got a hug, and left him to his prep.
2. Huh. I've run out. A Top Eight it is then.
As you can see, there were a lot of positives. So why did I leave feeling drained and emptied instead of inspired?
Well, let's discuss networking. We writers are an introverted bunch. When a couple friends told me that Worldcon was amazing, that I simply HAD to go, and that they knew people they'd introduce me to, including several editors relevant to my career, I had high hopes. I prepared myself in advance to suck it up and talk to people I didn't know. I can do that. It's never a bad thing to meet more people who work in your field.
If you've been to writer's conferences and conventions, you know that most of the action is at night at Bar Con. This is where the published and unpublished gather together in one loud, crazy bundle of networking. You mingle, you meet, you talk, you laugh, you drink.
The first night, most of our party skipped Bar Con. I had gotten less than 90 minutes of sleep before riding in a car for 9 hours. It was late. Everyone was cranky. So my roommate and I headed up to bed.
The next night, we had that awesome BBQ mentioned above, and then we went to the bar. The Con Bar was at the Marriott, so we headed on over.
And here's where the negative begins.
The bar was packed both nights we went. We initially kind of huddled over on the edges. The first night, the friends we'd come with who were familiar with these people were out in the middle of it, mingling. It was a struggle to try to talk to the writers filling the room. In fact, other than people I already knew, I didn't meet new writers that night, and certainly no editors. The only ones we ended up having real, substantive discussions with were readers who were attending the Con, not other writers. My roommate and I left with a bad taste in our mouths that night, but we thought perhaps things would change next time.
We skipped the bar the next night, which ended up being one of our better nights (see above). But on the night of the Hugos, we hit the bar with everyone else afterward, dressed to the nines. I went to the bar determined it would be different this time. I was dressed up. My hair was done. I was wearing makeup. I could do this. I was wearing a girl mask.
I saw an acquaintance talking to a group of men (the VAST majority of people in the bar both times were men), and I walked over to say hi to him, and introduced myself to the others standing there. They shook my hand, introduced themselves, briefly spoke in my general direction, then promptly turned their talk inward again (my acquaintance had been summoned by someone else, and had turned to talk to them). This time, the discussion became all about their female characters, and how WELL and FAIR they were writing these characters. They weren't talking to me, but around me. No one would meet my eyes after the initial introduction. In fact, two of them didn't even meet my eyes then.
I took the hint and wandered away.
This happened again. I can't tell you what it took each time to walk up and try to talk to these people. But I could rarely even get eye contact. And they kept trying to convince me, without actually talking to ME, that they were writing strong female characters. Okay?? Good? Glad to hear it. I don't care. I'm not the Female Character Police. This is not the only thing we women want to talk about, if at all.
I was approached several times by other women who were doing the same thing I was. They were great to talk to, and we had real conversations. I watched these other women circling the outskirts of the room, trying to meet people, trying to introduce themselves, and not really being let in. It should be noted that two well known female authors were there at the first bar night, and they were also on the outskirts most of the time, which I found bizarre. I mean, they were already a part of this crowd, right? Respected, I would think. About halfway through my time there, they found each other and stood there talking together for the rest of the night. So it wasn't just us no namers facing this. Otherwise, I'd say our problem was that we weren't people who could help others climb. I'm sure that was a part of it.
Ultimately, the night ended well, with me settled in with my friends, and several other people stopping by to talk. Once I gave up on being part of this particular writing community, I was able to relax for the most part. It was the first night that original group of friends was really all together and just hanging out, and it was a pleasant change and a comfortable place to be.
I intended to write this recap post last Monday, the day after I arrived home from MidAmeriCon II, but I just sat there at the laptop trying to work through how I felt about this trip. Empty. That's all I could feel. I felt empty. Cored. Cleaned out. The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became. The more upset I got. So I gave up. I didn't want to say something negative about something so big in the speculative fiction community. I didn't want to jump the gun and say something I'd regret. I didn't want to be ostracized by not taking part in the love fest that was Facebook for the attendees after the fact. I scanned people's posts to see if anyone felt the way I did, but I didn't find anything.
I had to have been wrong, right? This was the very same community that awarded most of the awards that Saturday night to women. I had to be misconstruing it. It had to be my lack of ability to mingle, to network. My introverted nature working against me. Only...I have never felt this way at other conventions. Not even other speculative fiction conventions. Not even at Denver Comic Con, where I did not have most of my usual "support group" of friends, and where I hardly knew anyone at all. I may not have felt like I was in the middle of everything there, but I also didn't feel like I was facing a wall of backs, which is how I felt for most of Worldcon Bar Con. (It should be noted that I didn't feel this way in the actual convention.)
To be clear, I am not someone who instantly leaps to "It's because I'm a woman!" That is not my default. In fact, it didn't even cross my mind on Day 1. It could be that there were two completely different dynamics at play between Day 1 and Day 2. However, the things I've mentioned here, and the things I have chosen not to mention, indicated gender being at least a portion of the issue on Day 2.
There's also the fact that I've since spoken to a couple of my female friends who were there, and they said they felt the same. I definitely can't speak for all the women there, and I'm sure there were women who had a high old time and didn't feel this way at all. But several of us did. I found this tremendously ironic, considering the amount of lip service paid to women in the industry, both on the panels and in the amazing sweep that occurred in the awards.
Maybe we took it wrong, and I'm sure no one in that room would want it to have been that way, that if they were hearing this from a female friend, they would be aghast. But there's still work to do if even the female authors who are known and have been nominated for Hugos are outsiders.
A couple bad nights at the bar is minor in the scheme of things, but this was an experience I haven't had before, and one that has made me look to the future with a new sense of dread. Is this what I have to look forward to? What does it take to be worth talking to at Worldcon as a female author? Did I need to butch up my confidence level? I've been in the business world. I've worked for my share of misogynists, but I hadn't been made to feel this way by my community, the writing community, until now.
Now I'm faced with hotel, food, and gas bills to pay off for something that left me hurting and unsure about the writing community. And a great sense of emptiness and dejection. In the meantime, I get to keep reading about what a great Con it was for my male friends who were there, and how many fantastic connections they made. I didn't write a word last week, because I was emotionally exhausted from my five days in Kansas City. I'm coming back around, and finally got some writing done last night. My experience was a disappointment, but I'm sure it was just a fluke. There has to be another explanation. Maybe it was just me.
Either way, I failed miserably at this networking thing, and I need to examine that and figure out what I could have done differently, and how to do it going forward. I have spent the last couple years stretching well outside my personal comfort level, and I have felt good about that until now.
Having said all this, I can't blame anyone for my experience except for me. I built it up too high, had expectations that were unrealistic, and I'm sure I could have tried harder and stretched further beyond my own comfort level. Lesson learned. And next time I'll offer to sign the books. ;)
Did you go to Worldcon? How was your experience? Have you ever attended a writing event that left you feeling like an outsider? How did you deal with it? What tips and tricks do you have for networking?
May you find your Muse.
*Photos taken by myself and Patrick Hester.