This past weekend I attended the ConFusion science fiction convention in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. I have not been to a con in thirteen years; the last one was ConFusion 2002, when Heather Alexander was the musical guest of honor.
I attended this year for two reasons. First as a great big science fiction geek, and second as a representative of Caffeinated Press. My plan was to track down some successful authors and ask them what they looked for in a publisher, and any stories, good or bad, they cared to share about their publishing experiences. As it turns out, famous authors at a science fiction convention are a much-sought-after commodity, so that plan kind of fell flat.
I arrived at the Dearborn Doubletree Hilton just after 3:00 on Friday. I checked into my hotel room, changed my shirt, and wandered down to the main lobby. A large group of science fiction and fantasy authors were sitting around a table eating chocolate cake and taking photos of each other eating chocolate cake. I recognized Jim C. Hines from a talk he gave at the local Thank God It’s Over party at the end of NaNoWriMo, back at the beginning of December. I introduced myself and we talked for a minute, but I quickly realized I was interrupting something, so I left the cake and explored some of the convention rooms.
Things hadn’t officially started yet and the only action was in the gaming areas. People were setting up for Dungeons and Dragons (5th edition), several different card games, and a number of board games I didn’t recognize. Of course I haven’t played board games (other than The Settlers of Catan) in many years, so this was not surprising.
As 5:00 pm approached more and more people filed into the hotel, and finally it was time for the first round of panels. I went to one called “What About Peaceful Societies?”, which explored the notion of nonviolent science fiction books. There aren’t many out there. One of the panelists was a Quaker. After the panel I spoke with her and her husband. I said that I thought it was unusual to see Quakers at a science fiction convention, and they said that all the Quakers they know are big fans. That never would have occurred to me.
I went to a couple of more panels, then hit the bar for dinner and a beer. I struck up a conversation with some folks, one of who turned out to be Michael Elliott, author of Descent Into Redemption. This conversation, along with about a dozen similar over the course of the weekend, made me realize that practically every attendee was a writer to some degree. Several had been published – some by traditional publishers, and many had self-published through Amazon or Smash Words or one of an ever-increasing number of similar platforms. So I shifted my focus. I would leave the bigger-name authors alone and talk to people who were still forging their way.
I have to admit here that, as an as-yet-unpublished writer myself, there was an element of self-interest to these conversations.
On the way out of the bar I happened across John Scalzi and his wife eating dinner with some folks. I introduced myself and he was polite but glared quite ferociously, so I quickly excused myself. I later learned that interrupting authors at meals and such is Frowned Upon by the convention staff. Noted. Won’t happen again.
The whole weekend went this way. I attended thirteen panels, each of which will be discussed here in a separate blog post. I talked briefly with several of the more established authors – Karen Lord, Tobias Buckell, Saladin Ahmed, Steven Erikson, and Wesley Chu, among others.
Saturday evening, again in the bar, I struck up a conversation with a couple who were not in the hotel for the convention. They had arrived during the costume contest. That was an interesting conversation. I explained what was going on, and pointed out some of the famous people who were literally within arm’s reach.”You see that guy? He’s had several books on the NYT best sellers list. The woman over there? Won half a dozen awards. And him? He’s published about thirty books.”
Afterwards, on the way to my room, I ran into Dr. Philip Kaldon browsing through a pile of old issues of Locus Magazine. We ended up having a forty-five minute conversation about the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of getting into publishing, and getting published. He was a superb source of information and ideas, and extremely friendly. And he’s a West Michigan local!
ConFusion 2015 was a great experience. I learned a lot about writing, editing, and publishing, and came away inspired to get Caffeinated Press up and running and maybe look at publishing some of my own work.
Here are the notes I took for each of the panels.