Approachable Authors

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Conventions, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

I spent a good portion of my day talking up my Boskone weekend to anyone that would listen (i.e. my wife and that’s about it). I had one of those moments where I stepped back from it all and thought if I could tell thirteen year old me that I could go shoot the breeze with an author or trade digital high fives via twitter… damn that thirteen year old would be stoked. Also confused because I think I was still rocking the Tandy computer back then and internet and twitter would have been mythical concepts. And then excited again because at thirteen I would have known to take the information from the time traveling version of me who just told him cool shit about the internet and run to the market with it and made a butt load of money. A whole butt load.

Before I tangent off into time travel paradox, I am serious that it would have blown my mind. Even five years ago it would have.

See I picked up all my reading habits from my parents. Being from Connecticut and New Hampshire, it’s not like there were big city cons and huge bastions of fandom for me to grow into. Oh it was probably out there in some form, but it wasn’t their scene regardless, especially since I was six when my parents were my age. Hell, I barely knew anyone other than my parents who read the same kind of SF I did. Authors were mythical beings up on a pedestal. They were personified by a paragraph and a mug shot on the last page if I was lucky. They certainly weren’t people you could talk to.

So early on in high school I eventually figured out that being a writer was something you could just do. And I started putting some things on paper. At the time, most of what I read was either epic fantasy or space opera, both sub genres that lend themselves to massive ongoing series with sprawl. Being an extrovert isn’t something that always comes easily to me now as an adult so back then I was kind of an introvert and really got into the world building and stuff. Funny considering I didn’t get an opportunity to play DnD until I was seventeen. So, being emotionally invested in these worlds, some of the stuff I put on paper was epic fantasy fanfic.

Now I wasn’t playing with someone else’s characters. It was like a Wild Cards story. I was playing on the map but I brought my own toys. That is to say, I wrote characters and plots that were off to the side who might have waved at a main character from the actual series.

This coincided with getting a computer with a consistent internet connection and finding out about a thing called email groups. Just thinking about email groups is laughably archaic now but it’s what we had back in the day (because I never did time travel to invent twitter ten years early) and damnit we were happy with it. I joined an email group for the author of this favorite world and was thrumming full of energy because holy crap the Author was a part of it! Well brilliant thirteen year old version of me brought up fanfic. I didn’t even know what the fuck the world ‘fanfic’ was until someone said “Oh… Author doesn’t like that stuff.” There was a round of back and forth direct with the Author and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said. I was frazzled nerves at my keyboard going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…” I’m sure whatever exactly I said was probably standard nervous weird kid. The problem became the response I got. I don’t remember specifics but it was condescending and snarky and frankly, just douchey. Did being a weird teenager blow something out of proportion? Not that badly. I know tone can get misconstrued in email, especially back in the day when email wasn’t ubiquitous but somethings you can’t miss that much.

It discouraged me at a time when that wasn’t exactly helpful. I took a small sampling of writing classes in high school and college. I even had the head of the creative writing department at my college tell me “Please take our program” and I didn’t do it. I stayed with the film program I had started. It was eight years from that time in high school until I had an inkling that writing might be a good thing for me. It was another three before I actually acted on it.

I’ve never read any of that Author’s books again.

Now this is a story I don’t actually like to talk about. I doubt I’ve told it a half dozen times and I never have (and never will) say who the Author was because said Author is still publishing. After typing it out here, I’m debating deleting the whole thing because it’s going to nag at me for days now. But when I talk about how much sheer awesomeness I feel at the state of current fandom, I can’t convey it without telling where I came from.

Ever since I made headway into the internet I was always reasonably tech savvy. Probably more so back in the Wild West days of the internet where you could teach yourself what was going on without needing advanced coursework. But thanks to that Author, I never sought out SF fandom online. I still read voraciously as ever but authors remained a mug shot and a paragraph.

The first toe into the SF community was after reading Old Man’s War in 2009 (Zoe’s Tale on the awards lists that year got me to go find the first book of the set). John Scalzi’s blog is essential reading for anyone even tangently interested in SF. I started getting a lot of book recommendations from his Big Idea feature which remains one of my favorite things to read in the entire community.

After going to a writing conference at the University of Rhode Island (got a lot of dirty looks for being a genre writer) and having a writing group fail (again, literary vs genre problems), I realized I am at my most productive when I am around writing. I sure as hell wasn’t finding good ways to be around it kicking around in Rhode Island. My adoption of twitter, creating this blog and my first literary con all happened within six weeks of each other.

Authors have become real people.

Twitter is fucking magic. I started with Scalzi and worked outward. I’ve had conversations with a plethora of different authors, a lot of times not even about books or writing. I made the “Hope your flight doesn’t make it to Providence… the airport is in Warwick” joke to Tobias Buckell who got a chuckle out of it. I had a discussion with Madeline Ashby about how American infrastructure isn’t designed for public transportation outside of big cities (three hours by bus to go to work from my old apartment). I follow a cadre I’ve dubbed the Writer Dads because they’ve all got kids in the little kid bracket (Buckell, Saladin Ahmed and Peter V Brett). I discover more new authors who sell me as a person now and make me want to find out what they have to write. People like Chuck Wendig. I’ve had more than one author tell me I turned around a crappy day because I sent them a tweet saying how much I liked their book. It’s hard to explain how awesome that made me feel. Writing is fucking hard work, it can drain your psyche. But the littlest of things can make you feel like King of All the Words though and when you feel like King of All the Words, magic happens. (or Queen of All the Words as applicable. It’s not applicable for me what with being a dude so I chose the word that was)

I mentioned yesterday how at last year’s Boskone, I was kicking myself for not talking to the pros more… or at all really. I always feel like I’m in this awkward spot where I know enough not to ask the obvious questions but not enough to ask the good questions. With the crappy weather on Sunday and my friend I went with Saturday not able to go for a second day, I almost stayed home. But I had this moment of zen where I was like “Fuck it! Ima gonna do this!” and I went for the day and went to Myke Cole’s kaffeeklatch.

If you want the epitome of approachable authors, it’s Myke Cole. This guy could run a master’s class in public speaking and he will talk to you about anything. He’s also got some of the coolest swag associated with his books ever in the history of book swag. I think the kaffeeklatch may have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because it was so… normal. It was a small group with similar interests hanging out shooting the breeze and talking some shop. I didn’t realize it until later in the day, but I walked away from there more determined to get on that side of the con table. It was kind of a “Fuck discouragement! Look at all the cool shit you could do on that side of the fence with all those other cool people!”

It was a full circle thing for me because Myke Cole was the first person I reached out to in anyway out in the nebulous social media. I was all “Dude! Your unit logo is awesome, is it available on a tshirt?” and he was all like “Absolutely. Cafepress.” And I never did get a shirt made because I thought it would be cheating getting a cafepress shirt that didn’t send him a dollar for it.

Someday I’ll get to the other side of the fandom fence where all the authors get to play and talk shop and curse together over low word count days. And lately I am starting to actually believe myself when I keep saying that I’ll get there. But it’s truly wonderful to know there are people who will lean over the fence and talk to you.

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