Spring is here, which means the start of conference season!
Well, if we *get* to have a conference season this year. Hopefully COVID-19 won’t ruin all of our plans. The SFWA Board met yesterday and we’re planning to go ahead with Nebula Conference at the end of May. We’ve talked with the hotel and put contingency plans in place, but for now we’re still on.
One thing that’s been on my mind to mention for a while is introductions at conferences. People talk about this from time to time, but I think it’s always worth revisiting. Here’s a little story I want to tell you, to explain why this topic is evergreen.
Not long ago, I was on a call with a number of people. One of them was new to the group. We’ll call her Sally. I said, “Hi, Sally! Have we met before?”
She said, “Yes, Jeffe. Like four times.”
Of course I felt bad about that. And I remembered her after that! But how do I remember her? As the person who called me out. My feeling shitty about not remembering her is now the feeling I most strongly associate with Sally.
Introductions are not an easy thing to navigate. And I freely cop to this failing of mine. Yes, it’s a failing, and I’m not getting better as I get older. I’m terrible at recognizing faces. I’m pretty good at retaining names – I’m primarily an auditory learner – and I’m likely to remember obscure facts you tell me about yourself, but I might not put your name to your face. I’m the person at the table who has no idea what the server looks like. I once mixed up Matt Dillon/Matt Damon & Ben Stiller/Ben Affleck, because Something About Mary and Good Will Hunting came out around the same time. Never mind that these people look nothing alike, nor are the movies anything alike – but look at the cadence of the names and titles.
This is how my brain files stuff. I’d say it’s annoying, except that overall it’s a pretty good filing system. I can recall a lot of information and my brain has served me well all my life. I’m a great test-taker. I’m not so great at remembering faces, or if I’ve met someone.
That’s the other thing. I meet a lot of people, especially at conferences. I hit overload pretty quickly, too, often after the first day. I can be a gregarious person, but I’m functionally an introvert. I live in the country where it’s quiet, with dirt roads and no street lights. I can go days never seeing another live person besides my husband. We don’t have many visitors, besides the birds, coyotes and bobcats – and I can’t really tell them apart either.
I know I don’t remember people well, and I’m not proud of it. But I also loathe leaving people unacknowledged. So, I err on the side of reintroducing myself. I’ll usually give my name, and ask if we’ve met before. Most people are super gracious about it if we have. What I love is if they offer me context. Something like, “Yes, we met last year at Nebula Conference and were on the burnout panel together.” Then I’ll be all “Oh, right! And you talked about how you went through x, y, z.” I just need that contextual trigger.
You know how I remember them after that? With pleasure. And I’m more likely to retain that identifier and remember them next time.
One year, when my Twelve Kingdoms series was first taking off, I went to a conference and was introducing myself, as I always do. Only that year, for the first time, when I said, “Hi, I’m Jeffe Kennedy,” the other person said, “Oh, I know.” People, this happened not once, not twice, but at least three times. Maybe more. It was a total conversation killer. I don’t know if they meant it flatteringly – or if they’d heard unkind gossip. But it was most unsettling. I can tell you this, too – some of the most famous authors I’ve met have introduced themselves. I think that route is far better than expecting everyone to Know Who You Are.
So, what’s the advice?
- Introduce yourself to everyone you’re not sure you know.
- Don’t be shamed if someone says you’ve already met.
- Feel free to look at name tags. That’s why we wear them.
- Don’t be shamed if someone calls you out for looking at their name tag.
- If someone you’ve met before doesn’t remember you, don’t be offended. Don’t call them out. Be gracious. Maybe offer a helpful bit of context for when you met before.
- If they still don’t remember you, be cool about it, because this is your opportunity to create an impression with them. Don’t make it a shitty one.
Remember: we go to conferences to meet each other and celebrate our shared profession. It can be awesome.
This week at the SFF Seven is a topic of our choice – whatever is on our minds. So, I’ve decided to tell a story I haven’t publicly told before. There’s been a lot of conversation in publishing this last month about sexual harassment in the industry, largely springing from this article in the School Library Journal and the followup survey by Anne Ursu. This is my #MeToo story.
I’ll be at the Reading Until Dawn Con in October. To start the fun early there’s a scavenger hunt where you can win some really awesome prizes:
One of the main goals of Reading Until Dawn Con is to give our readers a chance to get silly and have fun with our authors. We’ve got a full schedule of games planned for October… but we thought it would be great to get the party started a little early. That’s right… some of us Featured Authors and Bloggers are getting a head start on the fun times and hosting a SCAVENGER HUNT! Authors and bloggers will be posting their logo/game graphics from August 17th through the 21st, and Reading Until Dawn Con will accept entry emails through August 25th. Since the Scavenger Hunt IS a game, there has to be a prize, right?? One grand prize winner will win DINNER WITH OUR EMCEE, DARYNDA JONES at Reading Until Dawn Con!! That’s right, just you and Darynda, chilling out and chatting over a meal, our treat. We’ll also have four runner up winners, who’ll each receive special book and swag packs from a few of the Featured Authors. So… who’s ready to start playing?? If you haven’t registered for Reading Until Dawn Con, now’s the time to get that done, so you’re ready to enter to win a meal with Darynda! Good luck, everyone… and happy hunting!
Scavenger Hunt Details:
There are twenty (20) logo/game graphics hidden on 20 of the feature author and bloggers websites. A schedule is posted at Reading Until Dawn Con, so you can see who will have their graphic up on which dates. All you have to do to play, is check out the website and/or blog posts of each of the authors or bloggers on their scheduled date. Keep track of who has which graphic, then once you have all 20, just email your list, along with the name/address you used when you registered for Reading Until Dawn Con, to ReadingUntilDawnCon @gmail.com
REGISTRATION is now open! Come party with the authors who keep you up all night.
Be sure to keep up with all things Reading Until Dawn, by following it via your own personal social media drug of choice: Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | Up All Night Reading Challenge | Pinterest | Tumblr | RSVP at the Facebook Event.
Our topic in the Bordello this week is Three Reader or Writer Cons/Events Near You (that you’d recommend). Love that Calendar Queen KAK tacked on “that we recommend.” I’ve bitched about cons I hated before, so it’s good to focus on the love.
Also, I’m going one step further and suggesting four!
This last weekend I attended Bubonicon for the first time. It’s a local, fan-run convention for sci-fi and fantasy. Apparently they started out46 years ago with six people and had worked their way up to something like 800 this year. They treated me very well and I’m glad I went.
The SFF community, however, is very different than the romance one. Having been at RWA the week before, I found the contrast marked. Never I found a more supportive, generous and non-competitive community than the romance writers. So much so, that I’d forgotten that not all writers are like this. Don’t get me wrong – the Bubonicon staff and fans were amazing. Some of the featured writers were, too. More of them were than weren’t. I got to sit and have a drink with SFWA president Steven Gould (author of Jumper) and his wife, Laura J Mixon, who also writes as MJ Locke. They made time to introduce me to their daughters and are really wonderful people. I hadn’t known Laura or her work before, but we were on a panel together and she’s so smart and amazing.
A couple of authors, however, were less generous and pulled serious attitude on me. I’m sorry to say they were older women, more established than I in fantasy writing and full of teh bitchee. One, sadly, is a writer I’ve been reading for a long time and I now regret having a bad experience with. They very much reminded me of being in grad school and the way the older women scientists singled me out. One, for example, gave my essay a C and my male classmate an A. I looked at his, to see what I missed. Not finding it, I asked her. She said that she graded me more stringently because women had to work harder to succeed in science. Seriously. She said this with a straight face.
That, however, was the 80s and I’d really thought we’d put that shit behind us.
*Deep Cleansing Breath*
The best part of the weekend, however, was meeting and listening to Stephen R. Donaldson, pictured above. I’ve always had a mixed relationship with his books. I hated the Thomas Covenant books (and I’m not alone in that, I know – possibly the most unlikable hero ever), but I loved the Mordant’s Need books. Even hating Thomas Covenant, I read anyway, recognizing the brilliance of the writing and storytelling. Those books were tremendously formative for me, especially finding in Mordant’s Need a heroine like Terisa at a time when the dense fantasies all seemed to feature male protagonists. I’d had no idea Stephen lives in Albuquerque and I was thrilled at the prospect of hearing what he had to say (on ending an epic series – right up my alley) and I was also nervous. As with above, sometimes meeting heroes can be more disappointing than anything.
You guys – he was amazing. So thoughtful. So genuine and not full of ego. I sat with writing buddy Darynda Jones, who is deep into her Charley Davidson series and was also blown away by what he had to say. I’m going to be a tease because I was so rapt that I didn’t take notes and I can’t quite reconstruct what hit me so profoundly. Except that he talked about how finishing a series left him hollow and in this state where he couldn’t even celebrate because he felt so removed from the world.
Exactly how I’ve felt. Remarkable for me to feel both that sense of connection with one of my writing heroes and that I might be doing things “right.”
I’m hoping to invite him to visit our local chapter and speak there. If he does, I promise to take notes this time!
Today I’m over at Word Whores, talking about the worst convention I ever attended.