Advice for Introductions at Conferences

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?

  1. Introduce yourself to everyone you’re not sure you know.
  2. Don’t be shamed if someone says you’ve already met.
  3. Feel free to look at name tags. That’s why we wear them.
  4. Don’t be shamed if someone calls you out for looking at their name tag.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

 

Revision: God’s Work, or the Devil’s?

We had a lovely warm day on Saturday, and I got out the lounge chair to do a bit of sunbathing. Jackson elected to go with the package deal: sunbathing AND affection. He leads a pretty good life. Good thing I’m not concerned about my tan lines!

Otherwise I’m deep into revising THE FIERY CITADEL, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE, the first two books in my Forgotten Empires trilogy. This is the series – totally new world and characters! – that I’m doing with St. Martin’s Press. I turned in the draft of book 2 in April and my editor, Jennie Conway, sent developmental edits back to me while I was at Nebula Conference. She’s a terrifically insightful editor and gave me great feedback on tweaking the story. That’s a primary reason to go with traditional publishing, if all goes right (and some of this depends on having a good agent and serendipity), then you get to work with a fantastic editor who really brings out the best in your work and helps you to grow and move the story into the next level.

But… you know what they say: growth is painful.

I’m one of those writers who loves drafting. I used to say I hated revising – and I did – but now my feelings aren’t so strong. I don’t love it as much as the freefall rush of drafting, but it feels like good, necessary work now. Some of that is working with a good editor.

I used to have a critique partner who was the opposite of me: she *loved* revising. She called it “God’s work.” For me, revising always felt like fixing the mistakes I shouldn’t have made the first time. I’d tell her she had the wrong deity.

What’s funny is, now that I’m writing full-time – and theoretically have more bandwidth, hours, and concentration for my stories – I’ve become less demanding of myself that way. I no longer regard revising as “fixing mistakes,” but as part of the process. If we compare sculpting to writing, then my first drafts now are the rough of the figure with the surrounding marble chiseled away. The figure is recognizable, perhaps even showable, depending on your standards. In the revision stage, however, is when I bring out the shadows and highlights, when I polish the features so they have the perfect expression. I layer in the surrounding details, giving the figure context and deeper meaning.

Huh. Kind of does sound like God’s work.

First Cup of Coffee – May 28, 2019

Talking about my towering TBR pile today. I pose a quiz question for my listeners, too. What should I do??? I’m talking about revisions, how I’ve changed my view of them, along with my progress on THE FIERY CITADEL. Also thoughts on Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY.

How to Recognize and (Maybe) Avoid Burnout

The amazing and delightful Liz Argall, who draws the comic Things without Arms and without Legs, draws while she listens to panels. She did this wonderful sketch of one panel I was on at SFWA’s Nebula Conference. All the panels I was on ended up being wonderful, but this one was particularly amazing. The topic was “Burnout: How to Recognize It and Maybe How to Avoid It Next Time.

It’s a somewhat clunky title, but really wonderful for the topic. Because something that came out of the discussion – moderated by Laura Anne Gilman and including RR Virdi, Tina Connolly, and Rachel Hartman – was that creative burnout is really difficult to extricate ourselves from and not so easy to avoid.

Laura Anne, who did an amazing job of moderating, asked us all to tell our stories of creative burnout or coming close to it, and the commonalities were striking. This was mine:

For twenty years I balanced a career day job as an environmental consultant with writing. I usually wrote 1-2K words/day before switching to the day job. I slowly built my career, making more money each year, and I kept thinking that eventually I’d make enough to quit the day job. Every writer’s dream! Then my team got cut, and I was laid off with decent severance. My company offered to help me find a new job, but I wanted to see if I could make it as a full-time writer. I figured that, ,without the day job absorbing my attention and energy, I could easily double my daily wordcount.

(At this point, the entire room groaned. It was kind of hysterical that this collection of all writers foresaw the error in this.)

I was writing 4-5K/day, building up a self-published series and working up new stuff for trad – and the money was okay – but by July I was feeling ragged. I was sitting in the sun in San Diego, at the RWA Conference, having wine with Thea Harrison. She asked me how I was doing saying, “I hear you’re a full-time writer now – how exciting for you!” And I started to cry. Because I wasn’t having fun and I didn’t understand why. She told me I was starting to burn out and that I needed to get a grip and fix it, that she’d burned herself out and it took years to recover.

The remarkable thing was, for each and every one of us, someone else recognized the burnout and said something. A friend or family member had to point it out. Also, there was crying mentioned in every case, except for RR Virdi, who manfully laid claim “only” to deep depression.

We discussed ways of recovering and avoiding creative burnout, which mostly involved rediscovering play, and the simple joy of creating. Which meant divorcing it from monetization. Sometimes that meant something creative that was NOT writing, or at least, not writing anything that someone else expected or would evaluate.

At the very end, Laura Anne hit us with a statistic from the Mayo Clinic. The number one cause of burnout? Self-identification with your work.

Writers much?

So the final thing we discussed is keeping the boundaries clear, that we are not our books and stories. That’s one reason I try to be very careful to say “My book is a finalist” or “My book won an award,” rather than me. Small measures add up.

 

Show Me the Money! (Or at Least Don’t Make ME Pay)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Lit Cons, Fan Cons, Comics Cons: What’s Best For You?

I imagine there will be a variety of replies to this topic – and maybe someone will take on defining each – but I’m taking a bit of a slant and talking about the stance I’ve taken on conventions in general. Come on over to find out more. 

 

A Better Answer to: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Last week I attended SFWA’s Nebula Conference and got to meet our 2018 Grandmaster, Peter S. Beagle. I legit teared up when we talked and he signed my battered old copy I received forever and a day ago. I felt like a teenager again and all those feelings that led into my early love of fantasy rose up and swamped me.

The conference in 2019 will be at the Marriott Warner Center in Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! It’s become my absolute favorite gathering of SFF writers and industry professionals.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Where do you get your ideas – the least popular question ever.” Come on over for three avenues I rely on for ideas.