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Letters from Proxima Thule

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ringsnake posted a comment to my nattering on about Melbourne. I started a reply several times but in the end though I'd put it here, because I think it bears repeating into the LJ megaphone.

I think that it's these stories of international travel that cause us lesser mortals to have a skewed idea of the writer's life. The very idea of traveling internationally to go to sci-fi or games cons captures the imagination more than the reality of slogging away at a keyboard trying to make characters and plot behave themselves.

Right now I wish I was you. I'd let you have your life back once it gets back to the daily slog.


I think ringsnake is right--it's stories like this that make us all seem to glamorous and carefree. I try to post happy things about my travel, so that you all can experience a little of my wonder. It is, of course, not so very glamorous to have ankles swollen up so big from a 15 hour coach flight that you can't put a pair of shoes on, but it is pretty awesome to be in Melbourne, to do what I do. There's a reason everyone wants to be a writer--it is, even at my level, pretty much the best life I can think of.

But I want to be clear--cons are tremendously hard work.

I'm not paying for this one. Expedia gave me an I'm Sorry coupon after my honeymoon debacle that covered my flight and hotel. But it's true--I do pay, out of my own somewhat anemic pocket, to go to several cons a year. Only GoHs, generally, get their expenses covered, though very occasionally a con will extend that to me, it's not the normal way of doing things. Cons are expensive. We go because we love our fans and we need to network and a whole host of other reasons. But where you might go to one or two cons a year, the costs of attending many more--five, six, ten--is just part of operating costs for an SFF writer.

And we work at cons. I have to tell you, most of us are destroyed afterwards. It's physically and mentally punishing, especially given that most authors are not in their 20s when they start publishing (I was, but I'm not now). The body rebels against all nighters and constant screaming to be heard and the mind rebels against answering the same questions nineteen different ways. It is a performance for fans, and it is very often a rewarding one, but it's not a vacation by any means, and we pay for the privilege of it all. There's a reason many authors have assistants or handlers at a con--not because they're snooty, but because we run ourselves to the bone, forget to eat, forget to stop when our body tells us, forget what we're supposed to be doing half the time because we're so tired by day two. (I do not have an assistant at this con, before you ask. Usually my husband helps me not die, but I'm on my own this time.)

We don't talk about it so much because you should have an experience of meeting an author you like that is free of their crankiness and pain and exhaustion, their irritation at the thousand little tortures of travel. It's for you guys--so that the world of books will shine for you, and we will, too. And least we try. We do try, so hard, to be the authors we wanted to meet when we were younger. Kind and generous and beautiful, all those things, and none of the rough edges.

So yes, Melbourne is wonderful. I wish you were all here. I will remember this con so very fondly. But my body is prepared to take a hit with a science fictional shovel, and I will be in a lot of pain by Sunday, between my foot injury, my back, walking the ridiculous distances big convention centers love about forty seven times, jet lag and the voice loss that's already started. Is sexy, no? Hot grrl author, with Audrey glasses and the flash of ze camera?

Not so much.

This isn't meant to be complainy--I could have stayed home. It is a huge privilege to get to fly to other countries and have people care what you say, have them want you to write your name on things and have dinner with them. There is glamor and gorgeousness. But we usually keep the price tag hidden, so that our readers can enjoy our tales of life on the road rather than listening to me go on about my weird arch foot thing and how I am more or less constantly dehydrated. The icon that says Undestructable? It's as much a prayer and a hope as a statement.

I'm going to dry my hair and go register. Worldcon is going to be awesome--it already is. I'm going to share it with you because dude, I blog. That's what I do. I overshare. And then I will go home and write, which is even less sexy than appearing at a con. I rarely wear my lobster pajamas and monster slippers to a panel, after all. I will have deadlines that would thick your blood with cold. This life takes your breath away sometimes, with the grace and beauty of it, with the luck to be able to make a living on your mind and heart alone, but like any theatrical dance and shuffle, what goes on behind the scenes is a good deal less sparkling than it appears when the author executes her double flip and lands on her feet, smiling, shining, flowers in her hair, laughing as if it didn't hurt at all.


When people come up & talk to you at a signing, would it be awesome if they brought you some throat lozenges/candy/unopened beverage? Do people bring things? Is this allowed even? I am curious about appropriate con behaviour.

It is allowed, and I would be absurdly grateful. Occasionally people have done that and it is really like an angel appearing from heaven. :)

Having worked conventions, I know what you mean. I'm just taking a wild stab, but what you do is probably worse than what I did. I spent all weekend herding cats wrangling volunteers for NorWesCon, a relatively small convention of 3,000-4,000, and I had a nervous breakdown Saturday night. Didn't get to go to parties, was up at 7am every morning, and only ate because the girl in charge of food was dictator of all of us working, and forced us to not only eat, but eat healthy.

If you ever end up at NorWesCon, sans handler, I will gladly do the job for you. Because I know what it is to go through a con without any brains leftover for silly things like food and sleep.

Yeah, that sounds about right. And when I have a book out I do it about a dozen times a year. I was a nervous wreck before leaving for Oz. I had to remember I was supposed to be looking forward to it, not dreading. I'm better now.

This is what I have to explain to people over and over again, especially when I get home from a con and have to jump into working again with no break and people wonder why I'm destroyed. And, I don't ever have an assistant at a con, I usually share a room (getting terrible neck pain from the pillows and unfamiliar bed) which isn't exactly easy for an introvert, and have to check several chronic illnesses while I'm there to make sure none of them blow up on me.

Then again, I'm not exactly in demand for panels or for people's attention, so cons are less stress for me in that respect, but they're still very hard and I still have a lot of things to do there.

Heh, my first job at a con (I volunteer with several local gaming cons) was an acquaintance going "want to help me out next year?" When I asked what he'd need me to do, the top of the list was, "remind me to take breaks and eat throughout the weekend." My sweeties will both be at this weekend's con this weekend, helping keep me fed and watered. I know what a huge difference it makes at the end of a weekend that I have that support vs. one where I don't.

Likewise for pretty much any artistic endeavor. Working Ren Faire gives me new appreciation for the support and the work behind Magic. We're each others' support. Because none of us really wants to be the overheated one surrounded by EMTs and feeling like an idiot, and we want to spare our friends that indignity as well.

So if ever I spot you at a con...slip you some trail mix, water, and a couple ibuprofen?

I rarely wear my lobster pajamas and monster slippers to a panel, after all.

I realize this is entirely beside the point, but now I am thinking that a Pajama Panel would be totally awesome. :)

ME TOO. You could call it "Teh Glamour."

I worked my first Con last year for the game I used to work on. Yeah. Crazy. Madness. And we all got swine flu after.

Also, if you ever, ever want to do D*Con, you have People Who Are Me who will be happy to help defray the cost, whatever situation I happen to be in.

Coz I miss you.

You are just wonderful and it's been a pleasure to meet you. When you do write that dragon truck book I'll be there to help. Obviously for a fee but help nonetheless

I don't know why, but this post only inspires me further to realise my dream and become a publishing writer :)

Seconding your comment!

I so very much hear this entry (also, a good reminder to program in meal breaks in my calendar for Pax this weekend). Last year I was in tears after the end of a 3 day convention as an attendee, let alone the toll a working trip would be.

Any assistance I can ever give for Other Portland trips, my home is open to you!

I hope you enjoy the land of monsters and the future in between working the Con!

Actually, since I chair and treasury cons, I have some idea of what you go through. Between the publicity runs up to a con and dealing during, I understand.
I remember seeing Larry & Fuzzy Pink going to what we call Meet the Pros - When Fuzzy was trying to remember where they were going, he announced "We're going to the Meet the Fans Party".
And I truly thank all the Pros who go through this.
I love meeting the people I love to read and turn names into humans and hopefully at some point friends.
Take Care down there and prop those poor ankles up!
Pixie Dust to keep your feet off the ground. ;)

get yourself some tacky but tasteful flipflops for your feet ... that helps a lot, and saves on your good slippers.


As I work Norwescon too,(my hubby and I run Lazer Tag)I know what you go through. I basically am my hubby's handler and he is mine to remind me to eat and I remind him of everything else because he's dealing with at least a hundred hyperactive children, pre-teens, and teens over three days and at our age, we don't bounce back very well. I also do panelist duties at Orycon and yeah, trying to get from one panel on one side of the hotel to a back-to-back one on the other side, not fun at all. I understand what you're going through.

And we still love you for what you do. :)

if we're together on the same Con ever again I'm so going to try and Mother you when we interact.

I'd recommend against doing that to strangers on general principles, Anton.

If you tried it on me I would bite your head off, for example.

(Just a word of warning from an acquaintance. The polite thing to do is Not Presume.)

Well heck, I know it's worldcon and all, but I pretty much live for palling around in my jammies at con!