My Guide to Conventions #1: The Five Best Questions To Ask A Panel of Writers

(Please note this is snark, based on things I’ve seen con goers do time and time again. Do not do these things.)

Winter lingers on but spring is right around the corner, and already this year’s conventions are underway. Once we start to think of ourselves as writers, it’s natural to want to be around our own kind. Conventions offer ample opportunity to meet authors and other publishing professionals, as well as take in educational panels that might improve our careers. The programming committee puts together a string of panels on various topics and invites participants to spend an hour talking about that topic.

The first thing you have to know is which panels you want to attend. Of course the subjects are important, but ignore that for the moment and focus on the names. Which of your favorite authors will be speaking? Check off those panels first, because this is a great opportunity to meet your heroes without coming across as a “fan”. After all, you’re going to be sitting in front of them for an hour, learning about writing. They’ll know right away that you’re serious about your craft because you bothered to be at their panel. Schedule the rest of your activities around these choices, and make sure to give yourself ample time to get there early and score that front row seat. Middle of the aisle is the best, even if you have to step on a few toes to get there.

After that, just pick a bunch of panels that sound cool. If there’s a topic that you feel you could have been a panelist for, definitely go to that. The programming committee will have spies in the audience to see who asks the best questions, and those people often get invited back next year. Don’t you want to be on a panel? I thought so.

Once in a panel, in your seat, pay very close attention to what the speakers have to say. Unless, of course, you found the panel with the idiot speaker (there’s always at least one, the cousin or girlfriend of someone on programming) who’s talking about things you already know, in which case you can ignore them until question time. Tweet something, or check Facebook or catch a quick nap. People will respect you since they’ll realize that you know so much about writing that you didn’t even need to pay attention.

When you’re ready to be an active participant in the discussion, raise your hand. Usually the moderator will ask to hold all of the questions until the end, but that’s just for people who don’t know what they want to say. You will have read this post and come prepared, so you can ask your questions at any time. Pick from the following list, and be sure the read the notes at the end:

  1. If you’re in a panel about anything related to publishing, anything at all, describe your current novel project and ask for a list of publishers who would be willing to buy it. If the answer is, “We can’t give you a list, you’ll need to submit to publishers you think would be interested in your kind of work until you find the right fit,” just know that this is a test. The gatekeepers want to know if you’re serious about getting published. Do not give up the floor. Do not back down. Insist that they give you at least a few names to start with, and make sure to have a pencil and paper ready to jot down that list. That’s how you make an impression.
  2. If you happen to be on a panel which is largely made up of female or non-white panelists, don’t let them shortchange you! Obviously, these people are only on the panel because the qualified white male authors weren’t available. Ask for a list of the people who were supposed to be on the panel instead, so that you can look up their work. It will balance out whatever information the second-string panelists gave you, and you’ll get a more well-rounded experience.
  3. When you don’t have a question because you already know more than the panelists do, be sure to share your knowledge with the rest of the audience. Raise your hand, but instead of asking anything, begin by saying, “This is a more of a comment than a question…” That way every knows to pay attention to you instead of waiting for a panelist to answer. Then mention a few of the key points from earlier in the discussion – so everyone can see you know what you’re talking about – and explain how those points are wrong.
  4. If the panelists are discussing the history of fiction, genre, conventions, the publishing industry, or anything else, be sure to ask for an annotated bibliography. All of the best panels prepare these handouts in advance, but they’re like prizes for the most astute audience members. You have to ask for them. If the panel refuses to provide you with one, sigh heavily and sit down. Eye rolling is good here too. That way it’s obvious that you know the panel failed in one of their most basic tasks.
  5. Often the panel won’t get to everything about the topic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it. If you think they left out something important, no matter how loosely related to the discussion that’s been had, don’t hesitate to bring it up! This could be your chance to get your questions answered from two panels ago.

Once the panel is over, be sure to get to your favorite author, or the one you most need to correct, as quickly as possible. They take the first three audience members and will answer additional questions at length, but time constraints prohibit them from taking more. Those lucky three will get to talk as long as they want about anything they want, so don’t miss your chance! Some of my best times at a convention were hanging out in a bar or even author’s hotel room, talking late into the night about my writing, because I was persistent enough to catch their eye after a panel was over.

Lastly, there are some ways to get more attention if you feel the audience or panel isn’t seeing you. If the panel is dull or the moderator ignores you when you have your hand raised, feel free to leave the panel right then. Even if this means that you have to step over people, make noise, or otherwise interrupt the discussion, that’s okay. Everyone will see that you were too important to be ignored, and they won’t make that mistake again next time.

You should also pay attention to the volume of your voice. If your panel has been full of noisy people, the best way to get them to keep it down in the future is to ask your question in a very quiet tone. You may be asked to repeat it a few times, but don’t get any louder. This will remind people to be respectfully silent when you are speaking. Conversely, if raising your hand isn’t working, you can always just shout your question. Most likely the moderator didn’t see you, because they certainly would have called on you if they had.

Yes, this post is meant to be sarcastic, a list of things con goers certainly shouldn’t do or expect. It’s also a list of behaviors I see at every convention I attend. I hope that by putting it all together, it’s so absurdly over-the-top that readers get they’re not meant to actually do any of it. Plus, you seem like it when I get a bit snarky 😉

Oh, did you hear my latest SF Signal podcast appearance? Episode #175 is The 2013 List of Conventions You’re Looking Forward To This Year, with Gail Carriger, Jaym Gates and Patrick Hester (February 4, 2013).

Why I’m Not Abandoning Readercon Just Yet

There’s been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who, after reading about or hearing about the recent sexual harassment incident at Readercon, are pledging to never go back. Many more are saying that they won’t be back for a few years, not until the con can prove it’s changed.

I’m not one of them.

I completely agree that the incident shouldn’t have happened, that the person responsible is wrong and should be banned for life, and that the Board was wrong for ignoring its own policy and not banning him. That’s pretty much a fact at this point – it’s the truth, and people can generally agree on it.

However, Readercon is my home convention. I mean that in the sense that it is the only major recurring con within driving distance of me each year and at a time of year that I can schedule my attendance. It’s also my home con because it’s one of the few book-cons in the country – the programming and events are based on a shared love of books, not fannish activities. I am, simply, not a fan. I don’t dress up, I don’t get all squee-y over major authors, I don’t attend cons for autographs. I go to work, to meet others in my field, and to learn more about literature. Readercon is that for me.

Yes, it has flaws. Major ones, it seems. But I simply don’t have the luxury of walking away. I can’t decide to fly to some other con instead, to make some other con in some other part of the country (or world) my home convention. I’m not begrudging those who have the privilege of choosing some other event, but my choices at this point in my life/career are limited. I can skip out on conventions entirely, or I can do what feels right me:

I can show up and say this will not stand. I can show up and be a woman who will not be silent if she witnesses events like what happened at this year’s con. I can show up and volunteer to help make the programming and the convention in general a better place. I can show up and document what is happening for those who can’t attend to see the good, the bad, and the “oh no they didn’t moments”. I can say that what happened was wrong and I won’t allow it to happen again, because I’ll be there to help make sure it doesn’t.

I’ve emailed Rose Fox to volunteer and show my support. I know that my position may be unpopular, and I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying anyone else is wrong for not going. I don’t want anyone to be somewhere they don’t feel safe. Everyone should do what they think will make the world a better place, and for some saying “I won’t attend” may cause a lot of change. I’m not important enough, right now, to be able to make that kind of stand.

I’m going to make this other stand instead.

Readercon 2012 – the sexual harrasment edition

There are other things I want to say about this year’s Readercon. I want to talk about the panels I attended – the good, the bad, and the wtf. I want to talk about all of the wonderful people that I met for the first time. I want to talk about going to this convention not as a fan but, finally, as a writer and editor and publisher. As a professional.

I want to talk about getting 4 hours of sleep a night and eating too much rich food and laughing my ass off and waking up happy and content each morning.

But I can’t talk about that yet because I have to take time to talk about an incident which makes me wonder if I’m going back next year.

If you follow the con news at all, you’ll know that a woman reported a long string of events where a man followed her, touched her, made repeated advances, and basically didn’t seem to understand the concept of “no means no”. She told the convention committee, which has a solid policy in place – incidents like this result in a permanent ban from attending the convention again. Having seen the concom follow through on this policy in 2008, she felt secure in the knowledge that she would be protected.

She was wrong.

The convention Board of Directors spoke to the man in question, and ended up giving him a two year slap on the wrist. A full day later, after much public outcry, they finally released a statement. The man, they said, was sorry. Also, they’d be keeping an ear out for further problems, and if the man continued to act this way, he’d be banned permanently. The original policy, they felt, was too black-and-white, and would be rewritten to be fairer to everyone.

Sounds, well, not good, but ok, maybe there’s some room for satisfaction there. Except, it turns out, that the board already had another incident on file, a letter from a woman who didn’t attend this year because she knew he’d be there. A woman who was stalked, harassed, and eventually had to leave her position with another con, just to get away from this guy. So the board knew it wasn’t a one time mistake, and they acted to keep a guy who can’t be trusted to be respectful of woman over a woman who didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.

Why does this matter to me? It wasn’t me, after all. I didn’t have to deal with the guy, and I didn’t have any horribly unpleasant experiences at this year’s con.

I can easily give you an example of why this matter to me: I was hugged by a dozen different men this year, all of whom were meeting me for the first time. Only one of whom, afterward, said, “Oh I hugged you and we just met, sorry.” A male friend, who was with me all con and who was meeting all the same people, got handshakes instead.

I don’t like to be hugged. I am an introvert who makes an effort to be social at conventions because it’s my job. I genuinely like people one and one and in small groups, so it’s not a matter of being antisocial. I love social! Just not when it’s hundreds of people in a small space (I couldn’t even attend the Meet the Pros party until after the room started to clear out, and I’m sure there were people who thought I was in a bad mood – not at all!) I am one of those all or nothing kind of people – when I’m in a relationship with someone I trust, I can’t stop touching them. In fact it’s a pretty good sign that the relationship is nearing the end when I stop. But otherwise, if I’m not sleeping with you, I’d rather not press my body up against yours. Thanks, but, no.

But I get hugged by people who don’t mean it unkindly, who aren’t consciously trying to invade my space, who aren’t trying to seduce me. It’s a social greeting and I know a lot of gregariously friendly people. I can accept it at a place like Readercon, I can handle it as part of my job, doing business, because I know that there’s a policy in place to protect me from anyone who takes it too far. From anyone who decides that by accepting their hug, I’ve opened myself up to accepting anything else they want from me.

I’ve been in that situation, by the way. I’ve had those guys in my life. I am, as many of you know, a survivor of abuse, of rape, of being a woman with red hair and DD breasts in a world that thinks finding someone attractive and being allowed to act on that attraction are the same thing. I deal with it because I want to be healthy, because I want to be in sane, loving relationships where my baggage isn’t sabotaging us, and because I want to work in a very people-oriented profession.

Being able to trust that Readercon will keep me safe means I can go and focus on work and friendships and networking and memories and learning and the joy of literature. I don’t have to be afraid, because I know that there’s a policy in place to protect me.

Except now there isn’t.

Read more: and

Getting Ready for Readercon 2012

One of the best parts of pre-Readercon planning is when the program schedule finally comes online and I get to pick out the panels I hope to attend. Last year I didn’t make to everything I thought I wanted to go to, because either I got a chance to meet someone I’d only known online before, or I got drug along to a different panel with friends, or because I stole an hour to retreat to my room and take a nap. But still, I like plans, and making plans, and having plans, and being prepared …

Let me say right now that there is one place you will absolutely be able to find me this year:

Friday, 7:00 PM (VT room) Reading. Michael J. DeLuca. Michael J. DeLuca reads “Other Palimpsests,” forthcoming in the anthology Bibliotheca Fantastica from Dagan Books, edited by Claude Lalumière and Don Pizarro.

A reading from a book my company is publishing this year? Don’s first title as an editor? A chance to meet one of our authors? Hell. Yes.

But, you know, other stuff is happening too. Here’s a list of more panels I think I’ll be at:

Thursday July 12

8:00 PM G Genrecare. Elizabeth Bear (leader), Kathleen Ann Goonan, Kelly Link, Shira Lipkin, Barry N. Malzberg. In a 2011 review of Harmony by Project Itoh, Adam Roberts suggests that “the concept of ‘healthcare’ in its broadest sense is one of the keys to the modern psyche.” Yet Roberts notes “how poorly genre has tuned in to that particular aspect of contemporary life.” Similarly, in the essay “No Cure for the Future,” Kirk Hampton and Carol MacKay write that “SF is a world almost never concerned with the issues of physical frailty and malfunction.” As writers such as Nalo Hopkinson, Tricia Sullivan, and Kim Stanley Robinson explore the future of the body, how is SF dealing with the concepts of health, medicine, and what it means to be well?

Friday July 13

11:00 AM F Post-Colonial Independence and the Fantastic. Christopher Brown, Bernard Dukas (leader), Walter Hunt, Vandana Singh. Indigenous peoples in post-colonial nations often use speculative and fantastical works to explore concerns raised by colonization, wars for independence, and the colonizers’ departure. Are there commonalities to speculative stories written in immediately post-colonial nations—say, within the first 50 years of independence—around the world, such as Egypt in the early 20th century, India and the Philippines in the late 20th century, and Croatia today? What about 19th-century Haiti and 16th-century Persia? What do these works reveal about the nature of colonization and the ways that narratives are shaped by the authors’ direct personal experiences of the struggle for independence?

Continue reading

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Ray Bradbury died today, I’m told, and while on one hand it affects me very little (I didn’t know him personally, having only met him once) on the other hand –

I cried when I found out. More than I expected, as the realization of his loss settled over me. He is one of the writers who made me want to be a writer when I was a kid. Of those few inspiring authors, he’s the one whose later work I liked just as much as his early pieces. Though I discovered a hundred other great and wonderful writers since then, and evolved in my view of what kind of writer I wanted to be, I still read Bradbury’s work.

Of all of the quotes I’ve read today, this one of his affects me the most:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

Ultimately I write because I love. I love the stories in my head, I love the way I see the world, I love what other writers show me and teach me and make me feel. I love words. I love reading.

At least some of that is because of him, and I will always be grateful.