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Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.

Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.

The perfect time to go to a con!

(Cue maniacal laughter.)

I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.

The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.

Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.

I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.

Yay!

Yay!

But I did notice a difference.

I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.

The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.

Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.

Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan, 2016

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Today is a travel day for me, so without further ado, here is my schedule for this year’s ConFusion science fiction convention in Michigan.
Saturday 4:00:00 PM SFF At Your Fingertips
The online world has fundamentally changed how we find, discuss, and pass on the books that mean something to us. How has unfettered access to many authors changed the discussion around their work? What about the ease of finding like minded communities that only reinforce an individual point of view?
Jon Skovron, Andrew Zimmerman, Amy Sundberg, Jonah Sutton-Morse, V.E. Schwab
 
Saturday 5:00:00 PM LOLCats, Wols, and Watch Me: Pop Culture in SFF?
Pop-culture is ever evolving and fiction often hides behind a desire to be “timeless”. However, pop-culture is an increasing influence on our lives, particularly among young people. How can these modern phenomena be used to make science fiction and fantasy more relevant to today’s readers? Why don’t we see more created popular culture within invented worlds?
Ferrett Steinmetz, Amy Sundberg, Michael Damian Thomas, Sunil Patel, Adam Rakunas

Saturday 7:00:00 PM Emotive and Ebullient: The Young Adult Narrator
Huge films like Hunger Games and Divergent have created renewed interest in beloved Young Adult fiction. However, the intense emotive first person narratives driving many Young Adult novels don’t shine through on the big screen. What is lost in translation and how might this impact readers coming into Young Adult for the first time?
Kelley Armstrong, Courtney Allison Moulton, Amy Sundberg (M), V.E. Schwab, Jon Skovron
Sunday 12:00:00 PM The Business of Rejection
Writing is a business built around rejection. Almost every writer in the industry has experienced it at some point, and many experience it constantly. Come learn how working writers deal with rejection, move past it, and embrace it for what it is.
Amy Sundberg, Kameron Hurley, Greg van Eekhout, Dave Robison (M), Gwenda Bond
I have to say, I am super excited by the LOLCats panel, not only by the topic but because I’m been waiting some years now to be on a panel with my bestie Ferrett, and it is finally happening! With my good friend Sunil to boot! On the same panel! Never has their been a more exciting to me panel lineup.
I predict The Business of Rejection is going to be particularly kickass too.
Have a great weekend!

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Now that I’m back home from ConFusion, and after talking a bit about impostor syndrome, a few of you might be wondering how my panels went.

Short answer: I had a great time!

Longer answer: Once I was at the convention, any nerves I had melted magically away. I had been afraid I’d be that panelist who sits there silently while everyone else talks, but that didn’t happen. I always had a lot to say, and most of the panels went by very quickly. Plus I had the great fortune to share the panels with a lot of intelligent and well-spoken people, talking about subjects that I am very interested in.

My favorite panel was “What Does Rejection Mean?” Not surprisingly, I can talk about the psychology of being a writer (or more generally, being an artist) all day long, and I also really liked what my fellow panelists had to say. I moderated three of the five panels, having only prepped to moderate one of them. I’m a planner so the idea of moderating on the fly is one that filled me with a certain horror, but as it turned out, I was able to improvise without too much difficulty.

Getting ready for battle

Getting ready for battle

I decided a couple of months ago to set myself a few goals that I could have confidence in my ability to complete while definitely still stretching myself. So many of my goals are long in duration, very challenging, and involve a lot of me stumbling around and making mistakes. This is necessary; I am ambitious. But sometimes it’s good to balance all the striving with achievement I know I can reach quickly if I commit myself to it. Participating on these panels at ConFusion was one of those short-term achievable goals, and it was a welcome change to try something that made me nervous but that I knew I had the skills to do. (I have another of these goals coming up in a few weeks, so more about that soon!)

More generally, I always have a great time at ConFusion, and this year was no exception. I was struck by how much value I receive when I have the opportunity to spend time with my fellow writers, whether they’re just starting out, have been around a few years like I have, or are at more advanced stages of their careers.

I’d been feeling a bit bummed out ever since my last novel fell apart, operating under a cloud of discouragement. I didn’t let this feeling stop me from planning my next novel project or continuing to query agents, but it’s been there, and it hasn’t been pleasant. For lack of a better way to describe it, I haven’t been feeling writerly. ConFusion reminded me of who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish, and talking to other writers about our projects and our processes has given me a renewed sense of focus.

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan, 2014

More generally, I’ve been thinking of how important my writer community is to me. As a consequence, I’m bumping a Seattle visit up the priority list this year and considering the possibility of scheduling some Skype writer dates. Too much creative isolation does not a happy Amy make.

All in all, it was a very successful and productive weekend.

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This weekend I’ll be attending Legendary ConFusion in Detroit. I am so excited! This is my third year at this convention, and I always have a lovely time.

I’m also going to be a panelist this year, for a few reasons:

1. I remembered to sign up. And I knew I was going far enough ahead that I could sign up.

2. This is a great time for me to get panelist experience because the stakes for me right now are fairly low. I’ve been a panelist (actually, a moderator) at FogCon a few times, but I figured it would be good to give it a try somewhere besides my home con. Plus, the idea makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel very qualified, which means I’m probably experiencing impostor syndrome.  So I absolutely have to challenge myself and do it.

3. I really care about gender parity on panels, so I felt I should volunteer to increase the pool of female panelists. And if my schedule is any indication, ConFusion is doing a great job including female panelists this year, which is super awesome.

If you are going to be at ConFusion this year, or if you’re just curious, here is my schedule: (FIVE panels.  I’m going to talking a lot this weekend!)

 

What you might want to be reading RIGHT NOW

Saladin Ahmed (M), Amy Sundberg, Merrie Haskell, Patrick Tomlinson, Gretchen Ash

11am Saturday – Erie

Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.

Who Would Win: YA

Sarah Zettel, Aimee Carter, Amy Sundberg, Courtney Moulton

12pm Saturday – Southfield

Beyond Katniss versus Katsa and Alanna versus Tris–let’s also talk Elisa’s council versus Bitterblue’s council, Tris’s Factions versus Cassia’s Society, Moulton’s Fallen versus Taylor’s chimaera, and whatever else our panelists and the audience can devise.

What does rejection Mean?

Elizabeth Shack, Mike Carey, Amy Sundberg, Nancy Fulda, C. C. Finlay

5pm Saturday – Rotunda

Rejections are a part of the business when writing, but few of us understand what a rejection is – beyond the soul crushing part. We discuss what a professional rejection is and isn’t, and try to help shed light on both the why? and the what now?

How do I find the right fit when looking for an Agent?

Amy Sundberg, Lucy A. Snyder, Aimee Carter, Christian Klaver

7pm Saturday – Ontario

What do you look for? Should you ever consider changing agents or is there a situation where one should find more than one? What are some warning signs or things to avoid?

I, Symbiote

Amy Sundberg, Wesley Chu, Sarah Gibbons, Doselle Young

10am Sunday – Erie

AI, alien entities, ghosts, and hallucination can all result in  narratives with two minds in one body. What about this appeals to us, and what might that say in an era when we are approaching this level of technology?

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This weekend I was in Detroit attending the Immortal ConFusion convention. While I was there, this happened:

Photo by Al Bogdan

You can read all about it here and here. But what you won’t read about in those places is how I ended up attending the private shooting session for this photo.

I knew my good friend Al Bogdan was going to be doing the shoot, and I asked him if he needed an assistant. I was kind of joking…but only kind of. Happily for me, no one objected to Al having some extra help, which led to one of the more memorable hours of the weekend. I helped unload, set up the backdrop, run messages, and compare the authors posing in front of me to the cover we were trying to imitate. And I take all credit for Charlie Stross’s silver modesty drape in the above photo.

Also, this happened:

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan

I believe this is the only currently extant photo of me with a Hugo rocket.

I also had my first practical joke pulled on me. I know, I can’t really believe it’s my first either, but I’ve spent some time wracking my brains, and nothing else has come to mind. So this is my official first. It involved the personal delivery of pastries (yum, pastries) to my hotel room at an ungodly hour of the morning. Well, ungodly for night owl, jet-lagged me, in any case. I used Twitter to coin the term “pastry bomb,” as in “My friends totally pastry bombed me this morning.” I can’t think of a more Amy-appropriate first practical joke. Also, I had pastries to eat for the rest of the con, which was a definite win for me.

Maybe I should have taken photos of the pastries or something, but instead I have a photo of me a little later that day. I think this illustrates my mood post-prank pretty well, and if you look closely, you can see my Ferrett-inspired pretty princess nails.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan

And now I’m home and sleepy and happily working on the query for Academy of Forgetting (I might throw it up here at some point, since you heard me talking about that book all last year) and the brainstorming for my next novel, which takes place in space and is therefore inherently exciting.

Since I am new to the world of practical jokes, leave me a comment if you have any stories about ones you’ve pulled (or had pulled on you). I obviously have a lot to learn.

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When I was at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend, the subject of my blog came up (the way it does). I was talking about how I normally don’t do the standard convention reports here because I think they can be kind of boring for a wider audience. (Especially if you don’t drop lots of high status primate names, which weirds me out a smidge and also makes me live in fear of forgetting to mention All the Names, even though that is an impossible task.) I said that what I sometimes do instead is write about something I learned at the convention.

So now I have created expectations.

I had a convention strategy this year, which sounds a lot more impressive than it actually is. In years past, I have mainly tried to hit the big literary conventions (WorldCon and World Fantasy, along with SCBWI). But this year I decided I had the time and resources to do more, and I hit a few smaller regional conventions too; in addition to my local FogCon, I attended ConFusion in Detroit, the Rainforest Retreat in Washington, and Readercon in Boston. For those keeping track, that means in the past ten months I’ve attended seven writing events in addition to my two mini-retreats in Seattle.

My thought was that by attending some events outside of my local sphere, I’d get to meet writers who don’t necessarily travel out to the big conventions. This definitely proved to be the case. But another benefit was getting to spend quality time with people at the smaller events, and then being able to reconnect at the big conventions (where I might otherwise have never even met them).

Look! Fire escape! (I don’t know what this photo has to do with this post, either, but work with me here.)

To say that I’m happy with my year of writerly events is an understatement. But I’ve also been thinking about a conversation I had with Nick Mamatas (at Readercon) about conventions. “Why do you go to conventions?” he asked me. It was his opinion that, career-wise, I might as well stay home.

Now we can talk about promotion and networking and showing your face enough times that even the people you haven’t met or have only exchanged a few words with in passing feel like they know you. But Nick might very well be right. And it is certainly true that one can have a career as a writer without attending very many (if any) of these events, especially in the early stages. We can also talk about filling the well of inspiration, but there are more economical ways of doing that too.

No, when it comes right down to it, I attend conventions because I enjoy them. I love seeing my writer friends and making new ones. I like meeting new people. I like talking about books and writing and the publishing industry to my heart’s content. I like geeking out. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, the late nights and the groggy mornings, the packed hotel party rooms and the serendipitous meetings. I value being a part of this kooky, geeky, sometimes really screwed-up, passionate, generous community.

So that’s what I’ve learned, that for me it’s not about dollars and cents and how much exposure I got in exchange for my airfare. There’s nothing wrong with thinking of it that way–indeed, calculating return on investment is an important part of running a business–but for me, attending conventions is more than simply business.

For me, attending conventions means I get to travel while spending time with some of my favorite people. Not a bad deal at all.

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I’m back from Chicago and Worldcon and what proved to be quite a whirlwind experience. I’m also sick. Alas, using hand sanitizer and taking Vitamin C and eating fruit wasn’t enough to keep this particular miserable virus at bay. And I’m sick enough that my brain is somewhat foggy. So I’m going to table the topic I had planned to write about (which deserves my fully functional brain) and give you some snippets instead.

– I met a lot of people at Worldcon and spent most of my time socializing. And one thing that I find continually fascinating is how everybody has their own story. Some people wear their stories on their sleeves. Other people keep their interactions entirely surface to the point that it’s easy to forget they have  stories at all. And some people gradually reveal their stories to you, one layer at a time. But they’re always there: the goals and dreams, the insecurities, the setbacks and old wounds, the history, the personality quirks, and the bedrock of character.

– Many people seem to have a lot of social anxiety around convention going. There was a lot of talk about various kinds of social nervousness, as well as more than one person talking about trying to let go of worrying about what they might be missing. (“Just enjoy the con you’re at” was the chief advice being bandied about.)

I don’t have any particular insight to share about this because, as it turns out, these are not my particular problems. I tend to get nervous before a con, and sometimes I have a short period of nerves upon first arrival (although even this seems to be lessening more and more), but once I dive in, I’m pretty much fine. And I hardly ever worry about what I might be missing because what’s the point? Besides, I’m usually having a fine time doing whatever it is I’m already doing. This makes me think that perhaps some people have very different goals for their cons than I do.

That’s not to say I don’t have any problems at a con. I worry about when and what I’ll eat (because sometimes food just doesn’t happen, and sometimes I end up subsisting on French fries). I worry about my body holding up through so much standing and walking and lack of sleep. I feel sad that I don’t have as much time as I would like with many of these fabulous people I’m surrounded by. Sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversations I want to have. And sometimes I’ve had enough superficial chit chat and really want a more substantial conversation than what I’m getting. But so far, at least, I’ve found that these are workable problems.

My feet over Chicago.

– I really like Chicago. I love the varied architecture of the buildings downtown, and I love the beauty of the lake. The Art Institute was a real treat, and the pizza was intense.

– My sprained foot got hurt on an overcrowded elevator one evening, which resulted in a fair amount of pain (and possibly some tears, but don’t tell anyone). I was really struck by the generosity of spirit from the people around me. Let me tell you, I was taken care of. Before I knew it (and I certainly didn’t have the presence of mind to make any of this happen myself), I was sitting down with my foot elevated, I had ice in a ziplock bag, I had taken Ibuprofen, I had tissues to dry my eyes, and I was being diverted by kind people talking to me while not expecting me to provide a coherent response. Later, a few friends went to dinner with me in the hotel to save me extra walking, and other friends were visibly concerned, sympathetic, and willing to help. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who contributed in turning what could have been a catastrophic event into a demonstration of kindness and thoughtfulness.

– Now I want to sleep for a week. Possibly two.

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