I call from the parking lot in front of the Main building at Vassar to let the staff know that Iíve arrived, as per written their request. The person who answers asks exactly where "here" is, if I need someone to pick me up at a train station or airport. I donít know what I am expecting from No Such Convention - aside from their gracious addition to my bank account and bump to my publicity - but it is not to have someone sent out to guide me to the same spot I occupied last year, next to Amberís vending table.
I donít know what benefits being a guest here affords me. I already annoyed an email list to the point of hate mail by mentioning I was pretty blown away with the notion of being a paid guest at a convention. I am not the sort to demand a brandy snifter full of brown M&Ms for public appearances. This is the first time anyone has dared suggest I am worth an honorarium. Frankly, any increase in fame cows me, as though allowing myself into the role of minor celebrity (which seems to be expected of someone who writes legitimately published books) marks me as a hopeless egomaniac.
I feel nearly weightless with the anticipation of this convention, which is rather a welcomed change from last year, where there seemed to be no separation between my grandmotherís funeral and NonCon. I jump off steps and curbs as if to challenge gravity to hold me down. The loads of shelving and tables I carry from Amberís car seems to have no mass.
Yesterday, in the midst of twelve hours of research and formation for my panels - I preemptively respond to the panic of having too little material at the ready by having enough that I could talk for three hours - I looked over at the cover of Artificial Gods, a book currently enjoying the internetís curiosity thanks to an article being published about it in the Poughkeepsie Journal. The whole plot of my book ran through my head and I interrupted Amber, herself busily making book paper roses and polymer clay jewelry. "Hey, Iíve written three books."
She furrowed her brow, not really looking up. "Yeah, I know."
"Itís just occurring to me. Thatís kind of a big deal."
"I always thought so."
A young man in a red t-shirt stands awkwardly near me within the Main building as I pause on my way back to the car for more of Amberís infrastructure and merchandise. I look at him and he takes initiative. "Do you... I mean, can I help you lug in your stuff? Thatís what I am supposed to do. For you."
"Oh. Then... yes. Absolutely. You might be cold, though." I glance back down the row. "Iíll be right back, you put on something warmer."
I rush to Amber and confide. "A minion! NonCon has granted me a minion!"
Amber says that she knows this, that he approached her first. Well, thatís not as much fun then.
My arms loaded, a pretty girl stops me in the hall on the way back, as the minion brings some chairs to Amber. "Hey, I think I know you. Arenít you..."
I hold my breath and the smile that wants to be on my lips. I am being recognized, even if it is likely from a bad picture on a website.
"Arenít you Michael Johansen?" (I donít remember exactly what the same is, but it was a bland one I do not recognize a moment after she said it.)
"No, Iím Thomm Quackenbush, an author who is going to be speaking at No Such Convention."
She frowns and shakes her head, as though I am the one who is mistaken rather than her. She doesnít apologize or smile at the mistaken identity, just walks away.
I get to my panel fifteen minutes early, to make sure all the tech I need is in place. The moment I put the monitor cable in my laptop, a huge TV behind me springs to life and I feel oddly in my element. This is what I am built to do, talk to interested parties at ritzy colleges about my strange theories.
Soon after, people begin dribbling into the room until, within a few minutes, I have fifteen. I conduct a purposely ridiculous panel about a few fandoms I care about (that I will not detail here, since it will make a better series of articles than summation in this entry). I rush through my first section - on why Buffy Summers is a terrible person - far too quickly, though I get a few laughs and, contrary to what Iíd been telling people, no one walks out because I have offended them by telling them that it is impossible for a muggle to have consensual sex with a wizard ("Itís called NonCon for a reason, am I right? Pause for awkward laughter...").
I run out of material within fifty minutes and turn it into a group discussion. However, by that point, I have them detailing why zombies are human Pokťmon, so I feel I have earned my appearance fee.
I leave from my panel feeling a bit spend and with a sore throat from speaking so much so quickly, but the exhilaration of it all resumes. One of the people who attended my panel, a guy named Mario who bought (but said he has yet to finish) We Shadows last year ends up buying the two sequels, along with a comic I wrote with my friend Dezi. A few minutes after he leaves, a man who preordered online picks up We Shadows and my booklet. The first guyís friends come back and buy a few of my other books. Within an hour of vending, I have sold more than I did at all of NonCon 2012. I am beginning to let myself believe that I deserve the attention paid to me tonight.
Confronted with the cosplayers, I feel a bit like a mother on Halloween. "And what are you supposed to be? A card captor? Well, youíre sure a scary one! No... I donít want you to tell me about your Homestuck. It sounds personal. Maybe talk to your doctor?"
I am not as jazzed the next morning, though I slept well enough in the guest room of Amberís motherís house and I see on my NovelRank that I sold an ebook of We Shadows. Saturday is the longest con day. I will be here from nine in the morning until after eleven at night, though I do not expect quite the foot traffic we received yesterday. There is certainly more for people to do today simply by dint of there being more hours in the day, but the forecast calls for rain and snow. Were I not booked at this con, I likely would not feel the urge to drive here either. My panel on a few of the local myths is not until seven tonight, though I have decided that I am largely done with research, more because I am exhausted with the prospect than because I do not have an internet connection while at the convention (and not for want of trying).
Since I cannot trust that we will have a wave of new people, I tell myself to be satisfied with what Iíve sold already. There may be a few people who purchase tomorrow, simply because the con is almost over and theyíd been walked past my books for days, but this may not be a fruitful day.
Indeed, I end up selling only two more books, one to a stranger and one to a former student from when I substitute taught. A few additional people pick up my business card and will, perhaps, check me out online at their leisure.
All day, I watch teenagers wander by in their fair to impressive costumes or flash strangers on Omegle as the hour grows later (this con seems to have no security, at least none I encounter). I overhear one of the Homestucks saying how fun all this must be for the vendors. It isn't. Aside from the fact that, yes, I am writing and watching movies all day next to my girlfriend (which does not suck), I donít get to enjoy the panels or other activities. I canít really leave my area for too long, both because I donít want to abandon Amber and because I exist in this vague fear that people only want autographed books out of me when I am in the bathroom. Amber and I subsist on snacks we brought to stretch our earnings. Beef jerky and peanut butter and jelly are not that enjoyable into the second day, even when supplemented with the free tea and chip provided to guests and vendors in the "chill-out" room. It isnít horrible by any definition, but it isnít close to the level of fun the con-goers enjoy. I do not mind not having oodles of fun - I know that this is supposed to be work - but I think it is odd that gray-painted kids believe working piecemeal retail for fourteen hours is a blast.
It is not unlike when I worked at the New York Renaissance Faire. I got to watch people having fun every weekend, but I myself was working quite hard to sell them jewelry no matter the heat or weather, so neither Emily nor I would lose our summer job. Yes, I got to do it in a silly costume with a bad accent, but I was working long retail hours all weekend for about minimum wage. I am not giving much thought to the monetary aspect of this endeavor today (unlike Amber, who is concerned with beating me in sale, if just to provoke herself to sell a bit harder), since every book I sell is both one fewer I have to lug home and one more that stands a chance of being read and enjoyed.
A benefit to conventions like this is that the vendors are fairly invisible to the con-goers, unless they are wearing an obvious cosplay or they are shouting general statements into the air. I openly bawl my eyes out while reading The Fault in Our Stars - because how can you not? - and I might as well not exist to them. It is not the embarrassed, conscious ignorance, as when confronted with someone whose quiet grief has no bearing on your day, but a genuine filtering of my existence. By and large, I think most con-goers do not have the social grace that would prevent them from not commenting on the tears of someone gussied up in a way they are inclined to acknowledge. Dressed as Sherlock, they would be harassing me for acting out of character. In a purple, long-sleeved shirt, acting as no one other than myself (if a sleep deprived version), I can cry in safety. Only Amber sees and she nestles against me, occasionally asking the impossible question of what has made me cry now. It is impossible because I cannot express it without making walrus sounds, so I just shove my Kindle at her in explanation.
The women running the booth next to us are pestered by a man with a Sunshine Bear Carebear and bright yellow hoodie, who insists that they ask it questions. When they, being good sports, ask the bear what kind of a bear it is, he yanks it away from them, visibly annoyed. "Itís not that kind of bear! He doesnít answer those questions." It should be noted that he is older than I am, far too old to be this unfortunate when it comes to flirtation.
I feel bad for the two of them, but they deflect him well enough on their own. They do, however, report that Amber is descended upon by boys whenever I am away from the table for more than ten minutes. My proximity alone is sufficient to scare them away again without my having to say anything. What few women check me out look away when Amber starts kissing me in defense (at least, those I notice, since I am mostly reading and writing, thereby ignoring most things happening outside my booth).
My brotherís girlfriend, Colleen, shows up and we talk a bit about how she is going to my panel instead of one being conducted by Sex Nerd Sandra at the same time.
"Are you sure? I mean, you missed her panel on oral sex mythbusting..." My brain catches up to the implication of discussing this with Bryanís girlfriend. "You know what, never mind that. We arenít having this conversation. Look, I write books!"
Colleen assures me that she is very open, much more so than my brother, which is curiously not a relief.
I text Bryan and ask him to bring Amber and me dinner on his way from work to the con. Within twenty minutes, a panicked Colleen is back, explaining that Bryan popped both tires on one side of this car and badly bent the rim, though she doesnít know how. She leaves to get Bryan, meaning that they likely will not be back in time for my panel.
I call him to try to get more details, but all he will say is that he is on the side of the road and has called AAA to tow his car. I tell him that this was a bit of an extreme to get out of bringing me dinner.
My Saturday panel starts out a bit sparse - though Colleen and Bryan show up exactly in time - until I see the girl who thumbed through my book last year and who has been buzzing about the con this year.
"Julia, go wrangle up people for my panel," I order her. Within minutes, there are twenty people seated before me. I begin by relating some urban legends and facts that I will also detail in articles rather than summing them up here, yet again.
The rest of the night passes quietly for us, though the con itself it lively with comedy shows and concerts.
To my relief the next morning, Amber has a few people attend her panel about selling on Etsy, despite it being ten on a Sunday.
Daniel texts to say that he will not be coming at all because he is not feeling well. He then states that he was unaware that I had been competing with Sex Nerd Sandra these last two days and thinks it is accomplishment enough that I have managed to steal people away from her panels.
It had been slow all morning, seeming only a quarter or less of the attendees on the previous days having come back. Julia - who showed up before the con started for the day - buys a copy of one of my books, which is still better than having not sold anything at all, but I spend all day waiting for another sale.
Only three people show up to my writing panel, the most important panel to me and unfortunately the one scheduled opposite a Doctor Who panel. I can compete with sex, I cannot compete with the Doctor when it comes to this crew. I try to answer whatever questions they might have, but I mostly try to ramble on encouragingly. "You too can be a published author. I mean, just look at me. Somehow - possibly be repeatedly running at a brick wall - I made it through."
Someone in makeup - I am not at all sure who he is supposed to be - pops his head in the door a few minute into the panel. He gives me a friendly sort of glare. "Hi."
"Hi," I say, interrupted mid-statement.
"Is this a panel?"
"Yes, it is."
He looks around. "Oh. What panel is this?"
"Writing Speculative Fiction."
Another long pause and look around. "So not the Doctor Who panel?"
"Thatís 240. This is 204."
He waits a bit longer, as though Whovians might be lurking under the tables to trick him. Then he shuts the door without another word.
I return to my table twenty minutes after the panel ended properly, as I stuck around to talk to a woman with sparkly green wings painted over her eyes about the vagaries of modern publishing. As I sit, another one of Amberís suitors takes flight.
As I finish The Fault in Our Stars, I hear this cadre of Vassar boys (one can tell because they are all wearing Vassar sweatshirts and sweatpants) openly disparaging the audacity of these cosplay teens of being on their campus in such ridiculous costumes. This is obnoxious, but sadly not unusual. They then go onto the second floor and launch into an a capella rendering of some pop song. The con-goers get out cell phones and start filming them, but I concertedly ignore them. Either you sneer at the con-goers or you try to engage them. Not both.
Jacki calls me an hour before the con is over and asks where I am. "At Vassar. Where are you?"
"Vassar. I canít find you."
I eventually do find her, in a section of the Main building that the con doesnít encompass. The con staff had pointed vaguely upward when explaining where my panel would be taking place, rather than showing Jacki, leading her to take a staircase not connected to the convention, to wait outside a different 204. Instead, she wandered the desolate and largely vacant halls and got a bit of writing done between the beginning of my panel and calling me. I say "largely vacant" because she was pestered for almost the entirety of her stay by Vassar boys practicing a capella next to her.
As we are almost packing up for the final time, there is little to do for Jacki but apologize on behalf of No Such Convention for having misled her. She seems pretty well done with the experience, she just didnít want to go home without having seen me, so she bids us adieu before I can suggest dinner afterward somewhere as a consolation prize.
The truth is, I donít feel like doing much but hiding in a dark room until tomorrow morning, when I am due at work. I was, however briefly and largely in my own mind, Someone. Now, I have to go back to being a relative no one, hanging on to a job that may vanish in two months. I do not yet have another reading/signing/convention planned, though I am in talks with a fair and another convention to have me as a guest.
As I am packing Amberís car, I receive a call from my mother, asking if I have books enough to sell two sets and for how much. Two of my fatherís coworkers are keen on them. This, oddly, doesnít do much to alleviate my post-con gloom but it certainly doesnít make it any worse.
Soon in Xenology: The Discontinuity. The Ship of Theseus.