-H. L. Mencken
I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.
Pros at Cons: No Such Convention 2015
-H. L. Mencken
-H. L. Mencken
All weekend at No Such Convention, Julia, my number one fangirl, visits Amber and me. She is four foot eight of shy exuberance, given seemingly boundless energy by the proximity of other con-goers. We met her at NSCon four years ago, when she was thirteen but otherwise little different. That year, she buzzed by our tables but didn't buy any books from me. Given how distinctive she is, I had no trouble recognizing her the next year, my first as a paid guest and panelist. I joked that, since she didn't buy my books before, she had to enlist people to attend my panels. Thus, a partnership of sorts was born. This year, she brings her friends to meet Amber and me, boasting of our wares and talent. In exchange, we give her an anchor when the convention (or its attendees) gets to be too much for her. We also provide her a safe place to stow her coat and purchases between panels. We only ever see Julia at the convention, though she mentioned wishing I would be a writing program in Poughkeepsie so she could attend.
In a way, I think she feels a sort of ownership over the concept of Amber and me. We offer her a small sanctuary and encourage her with advice when a boy who likes her-but to whom she is not attracted-buys her a pricy stuffed cake dog, saying it was his choice to give her a gift but that she owes him nothing. It is perhaps not every vendor who would adopt her, but we made a connection with her that spans the years.
In this way, Julia represents what I like best about No Such Convention. Whereas with Otakon over the summer, we rarely saw the same person twice if they were not fellow vendors, No Such Convention provides a sense of intimacy. Yes, it is one percent the size of Otakon, but it uses that smallness well. One of my issues with Otakon boils down to an issue of commerce. With so vast an artist alley in addition to a vendor room, there are simply too many options to seduce the curious toward my books. I compensated then by praising Daniel's and Amber's art in hopes they would do the same for my books (which they excelled at, since we can be more objective with the work of others). I insisted for NSCon that Daniel lend me his art, which he has in profusion now that The Art Riot is closing. He chooses to believe this is kindness, but it is largely out of mercenary desire to sell more books.
Though there is always a line of people getting their badges for No Such Convention, it is nothing compared to what we witnessed at Otakon. Then, we waited in the line for four hours in total to get our passes before coming to the front of the line. Amber was processed as the gentleman behind the desk, eating fried chicken with more frustration that I had ever previously witnessed the act being performed, explained that someone named Bob had made the executive decision to move all of the databases off-site to a cloud... run off the convention center's spotty internet... its wireless and overburdened internet, not a hardline. We offered our sincere sympathy and shock that this would occur and, for this, they opted to eventually throw passes at Daniel and me and tell us that he must have done them before the system died and was taken off-line for the night. Behind us were a hundred other vendors, all waiting to get checked-in. Beyond them, several thousand visitors told that they wasted their night waiting for passes that will not come.
NSCon's smallness also means that, though at least one of my panels becomes standing room only, no one waits in the hallways for two hours for the honor of not getting in. When at Otakon, Daniel and I only attempted two panels, succeeding in accessing one about Japanese myth (which quickly descended into the panelist verbally fellating the crowd and typifying why Hayao Miyazaki detests otaku) and wasting a good half an hour waiting to be rejected from another since people camped in the conference room. I know that these experiences are part of the convention gestalt, but I have no love for hotel carpets and unwashed cosplayers.
With every convention we work, I feel as though I get better at avoiding the worst of it. This year, Amber brings a crock pot and cans of soup so she can make up a cheap dinner for when I return to from my panel, rather than incurring the cost and calories of take-out (during Otakon, I am sure I spend three times what I made from sales patronizing every crowded fast food restaurant in the inner harbor). Our snack bag has downsized from a heaping bag of salt and sugars to a loaf of bread, corn chips, some jerky, and apples to last us through the weekend.
However, No Such Convention doesn't shell out just so I can eat fruit and fidget as strangers flip through my books. I am keenly aware that I can become a bundle of nerves when faced with the concept of doing panels, though they justify my presence. I spend the whole week prior to a convention researching, revising, and planning out what I would say, then either fight the instinct to read it off a screen or ramble until I forget most of what I intended to say. My antidote this year was to record me reading my notes and chatting amiably about them, then playing it at double speed on my MP3 player while I cleaned and otherwise prepared for the convention. In this way, all of the information and my quips would become almost natural without having to resort to actual memorization. I was pleased to discover that, once I rendered my voice speedy, I found the banter genuinely entertaining in a way that is impossible when I am languishing over its normal sound.
When I return to my table, energized after the success of my first panel, a young man stands there demanding, "Yo, what you write about?"
"These three take place in the Hudson Valley," I say, motioning to the Night's Dream series. "The first two are in Red Hook. Artificial Gods is in Pine Bush, talking about the UFOs people see there." I am not certain if he had been at my panel. Though I was able to chat about all the topics I wished without leaving too much time at the end, I couldn't bring myself to make much eye contact. It is far easier to pretend I am still alone before my desk, chatting with the darkness instead of a room of twenty people.
He smiles because I've hit upon the subject of his interest. "What you know about the aliens?"
"I was just giving a panel about them. I talked a little about the Reptilians and how the Grays fight with them."
He laughs. "What you know about them?"
"Enough to do a panel. Of course, they could just me making me say that..."
He slaps my hand. "Yo, I fuck with you. I fuck with you!" He flips through the book. "Tell you the truth, I ain't much for reading, but I'll be back." I know he likely won't be, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Once he leaves, I assure Amber's mother that, given my day job working with juvenile delinquents, I know enough of his slang to manage to hold a conversation despite my overwhelming whiteness. Amber's mother thought the boy was angry, but I assure her that "I fuck with you" translates to "I like and understand you."
Then, a blonde woman approaches me, an excited smirk on her lips. "Hi, I'm Kaylie," I think she says, but I could have gotten the name wrong. All I know is that her demeanor suggests that she knows me and at least halfway believes this to be reciprocal. Maybe this is parasocial, the way I regard Neil Gaiman when I speak with him. Maybe she is one of the several on Tumblr I have followed in the lead-up to this convention. Either way, I have no interest in being rude, so I take her hand and say it is nice to see her. This isn't a lie. Anyone this delighted by my existence is very nice to see.
"Would you sign me?" she asks with a giggle.
I give a side-eye to Amber and her mother, assuring them that this is not something that happens to me often or, in fact, ever prior to this. "Um. Sure."
She hands me a green marker and I scribble a little on left inner arm, little more than a T and a squiggle because I am not sure what the etiquette of signing my name on another human being is and feel it best to provide as little contact as I can. Her grin gets broader. She hands me a VC Punx sticker and dashes out a side door. Was all this for a promotion? If so, why didn't scribbles cover her exposed skin? Why did she leave without hitting up the other vendors?
Nevertheless, I feel this counts toward my list of authorial firsts and another comes quickly. Another vendor inquires after my books and, when I explain that they are contemporary fantasy, asks if I would mind if she took a picture of them and me to mail to her friend. If this friend likes them, she will buy the whole set from me. When she approaches me the following day, it is to tell me that my picture is being forwarded among people and has reached a "wandering physicist" who might presently be at CERN, but she hasn't heard back from her friend yet. It is enough for me to know that a picture of me and my books has potentially been in proximity to a supercollider.
Saturday, a woman cosplaying a deer approaches my table and thrusts a copy of We Shadows at me, asking if I would sign it. I look to her guest tag to sign it to her, but it is obscured, so I simply sign my name. When she gambols away, I whisper to Amber, "Where did she get We Shadows? Did you sell it to her while I was elsewhere?" I have a spreadsheet where I account for all of my sales and I know that I haven't sold any yet this year.
Amber shakes her head. "I think she bought it elsewhere."
My brow furrows. "Like last year?"
"Or from the internet, yeah."
I face distorts as I open my spreadsheet to see that I have no record that would match "Cute Woman (Possibly a Deer)/No Such Convention" for last year. The closest I have is "Homestuck/No Such Convention," which is not evocative enough to be her. "Someone liked me enough to do that? Impossible. You speak nonsense."
One rule I have instituted as of this convention is that I am never going to presume people want to have their books signed by me when they buy it. I have borne the ego-bruise of people acting silently affronted that I would dare to mark up their new purchases.
The trick of working a convention is that one is reduced to being a non-player character, the sort of sprites that litter games with no independent life of their own. We are not gathering epic loot in a series of adventures. We simply sit in one place, vending their wares and trying to prevent self-identified thieves from wandering off with the merchandise. On its face, it is not an overwhelmingly gratifying experience. We answer the same questions ("Yes, they are made with polymer clay. No, the erasers are not edible. No, it isn't like Twilight. Yes, they are full novels. Yes, my publisher is a verifiable entity. No, I didn't draw the covers.") and some of the players wish to exhaust our dialogue trees when they could be having fun, knowing that we are not going anywhere and perhaps hoping they will discover the glitch where we give them free products to go away.
I do not think I would care to wander at long as the attendees do anyway. If possible, a convention for me would be instant teleportation to the panels that interested me, interspersed with warps to my room to relax. Simply put, I don't believe I was ever the target demographic. I care only a little for the subjects of their geekdoms-though I do not disparage those in the least. I simply don't process anime-or most anything-with the passions they have. However, I am now content to be a part of the experience for other people.
This NSCon ranks as my favorite convention experience to date. Never before this year have I felt more as though I provided a service to the attendees. Aside from Julia, people seem delighted that I was there, some buying my other books because they had gotten one the year before or because they had seen me at another venue.
This con made me feel more legitimate. Amber thinks I sold well as I did because I reached a threshold of having nearly full table. People know who I was by the end, if just by the content of my panels.
I have been at events where the reading space never opened. I have had people talk though my readings or walk out. I have driven hours to sell only one comic book, or nothing at all. I have read on street corners. I told myself that I was just paying my dues, but I found this eroding. NSCon tastes of earned respect.
Soon in Xenology: More timely entries?