This week’s Flashback Friday: My First Con. Seems only fitting since I’m currently at WorldCon.
I was 16 when I attended my first writing convention. I drove myself from Houston to Austin for ArmadilloCon 16 (10/7-10/9/1994) and I felt so professional, let me tell you.
Armed with a Sony Walkman, I recorded hours of panels such as “How to Stay out of the Slush Pile” and “Adding Decent Dialogue.” I took notes until my hands would fall off and asked “serious writing questions” of Guest of Honor Elizabeth Moon and editor Gordon Van Gelder.
I had my photo taken with Elizabeth Moon and Margaret Ball, and got my paperback copy of The Deed of Paksenarrion autographed. (I’ll have to share the picture another time. It’s one of those that hasn’t been scanned into the computer yet and since we’re moving, it’s Cthulhu knows where).
The theme for ArmadilloCon 16 was “Old Enough to Drive,” which was fitting since I had my license and felt oh-so-snazzy driving my first “lengthy” road trip by myself. Even better when I walked around the Red Lion Hotel in what I deemed “professional clothes” rather than cosplay or standard SFF con-clothing.
This wasn’t an anime convention or comicon, but an honest-to-goodness working convention to me as I’d decided the year before that I was now “serious” about being a writer. Serious isn’t in quotes because I wasn’t serious–I very much was–but because at 16, you never really know what you want. Your goals change as you age and learn.
I’ve known since I was 4 that I wanted to be a writer, but taking this step was huge in my development as one. Before it, I didn’t know what the slush pile was or how publishing even worked. I knew it involved editors, which people talked about in hushed or shouting voices depending upon whether or not they were published.
When I approached people to ask questions, two bits stuck out. The first was their initial, “WOW! You’re really young to have written several full-length novels!” After they moved passed their shock and awe (and yes, awe–people were amazed that I’d written 3 full novels by 16), people gave me one piece of advice:
Talking to living, breathing authors like Elizabeth Moon and Margaret Ball was eye-opening. It meant that the people telling this wonderful stories were more than the picture on the last page. Writing was an actual job–something they did in the same way that I worked (at the time) for Kroger. I could grow up and pursue this living and still be an adult. (Writing was so fun for me, I thought maybe it was a hobby folks had rather than an actual career choice. I hadn’t realized yet–pre-convention–that you could grow up to do what you loved most and still make money.)
When I entered a panel, notebook and walkman in hand, it wasn’t just the participants who noticed. Panelists whispered or they approached me to see if I was serious. Since 1994, we’ve had folks like Christopher Paolini be published before adulthood. With every convention I attend, I see more and more young adults and kids in the audience–folks who want to write for a living. It’s an awesome picture seeing a nine-year-old scribbling notes with the same fervor I had at 16.
I’ve had kids and teens approach me (as a panelist) about what advice I’d give to someone so young, and it’s the same advice that was given to me:
And yes, I still have the cassette tapes!
(Photo of Sony Walkman used under CCL, taken by Esa Sorjonen.)
Click here to read other Flashback Friday posts including those by bestselling authors Jean Walker, G.G. Silverman, G. S. Jennsen, and Django Wexler.