Many new writers, when they get their first book out, hope to go to writing conventions and be treated like a superstar. I’ve seen writers make questionable demands and engage in outrageous behavior, so I’d like to issue a fair warning.
First, anyone who wants to be a writer should help put on a writing convention. It’s a good exercise that teaches you the scope and complexity of the task. When you put on a writing convention, you need to find a good venue, check costs, make advance payments, invite guests, pay for their travel/food/and lodging. Most people think that it stops at that.
But with a good convention, you also have to worry about issues like providing security to guests, dealing with harassment, arranging travel to and from airports, getting legal help to cover contracts and avoid lawsuits, dealing with medical issues and the problems that arise when guests or attendees become ill, and a hundred other headaches.
Sometimes we’ve had grifters put on conventions. I remember years ago when a convention boss took the money from a convention and then skipped town, leaving the convention guests to pay their own bills. Anne McCaffrey was there from Ireland, and we found out about it at a Saturday dinner. Anne very kindly paid for dinner for all of the guests, but went far further. She had to pay her first-class airfare from Ireland and pay for her nice hotel room, too. So she was out thousands of dollars. Imagine getting hit with a $7000 bill out of the blue today, and you’ll understand what it was like. But it hurts even more when you realize that they took her away from work for a week to travel and entertain fans.
I had the same thing happen at my very first convention back in 1990. I was asked to be a guest of honor in Oklahoma, I believe it was, but the convention organizer never got my plane ticket. Something smelled off, and on the day of the convention he wanted me to run down to the airport, put a first-class ticket on my credit card, and fly out. He promised, of course, that he would reimburse me at the convention. So I very nearly went, until his assistant called and said that he had just run off with all of the money from ticket sales. He went to Australia and pulled the scam there.
That isn’t very smart. Science fiction fans are everywhere, and those who aren’t wearing swords are probably carrying blasters. Never mess with a guy wearing Spock ears.
But seriously, poorly run conventions can be a problem. So there is an organization that helps organize a lot of conventions called the Secret Masters of Fandom, or SMOF. Now, a SMOF is not to be confused with a Smurf. The SMOFs are the good guys.
This organization is made up of fans who mainly seem to work for free in order to put on good conventions. They let organizers make bids to put on major conventions in different cities, and then vote on which bids to take.
They, of course, take into account the credibility of the organizers, looking at how many conventions they’ve put on and they look to see if the organizers can handle a big convention. They look at things like, “How far is the nearest airport? How will you get people from here to there? What is the cost going to have to be per attendee? What entertainment possibilities are in the area? Do you have the necessary trained and dedicated volunteers you’ll need when it comes to security, medical issues, technical problems with microphones and AV equipment, and so on? How are you going to fund this enterprise before contributions come in?”
In short, it takes an army of well-trained volunteers to run a good convention, and as authors, I think that we should do our best to help them.
You’ll see that certain authors become perennial favorites with convention organizers. These are people who are generally genial, interesting, and highly regarded by fans. So becoming one of those authors might be a high priority for you.
Here are some simple do’s and don’ts.
- Don’t attack others either physically or verbally. I recall one author years ago who had an alcohol problem. Conventions had to assign extra security to him because he was known for trying to corner women in elevators and on more than one occasion he pulled knives on people. When he was sober, he was fine. But I also know of authors who also make verbal attacks. They try to garner attention by being provocative and argumentative. I sometimes look at such authors and wonder, “Who let her/him out of her/his cage?”
- Do not run up conventions costs. I’ve known authors who demand the finest rooms and first-class airfare. Then they get to the convention early and ask folks to take them sightseeing. Fine dinners where it rains wine then follow. I’ve seen authors rack up hundreds of dollars in excessive bills in a single night. I generally try to look for ways to save the convention money rather than cost them money.
- Don’t whine. Recently I observed an author being something of a drama queen, asking for rides to the pharmacy in the middle of the night, and so on. This author was obviously stressed out and practically demanded a full-time butler. I don’t want to be that author.
- Don’t ignore your fans. Now, the truth is, this might be a hard one. I know a lot of authors who are shy. (Mea culpa.) We often don’t do well in large groups. That’s why all of our friends are imaginary people. But you may also have physical problems that keep you from socializing. For example, I have severe allergies to a lot of perfumes and colognes. If I go to dinner with a dozen fans, it seems that there is always someone who sets my allergies off. So as an author, you might have to set reasonable limits on your socializing. I try to keep dinners down to four to six people, and I generally ask them in advance not to wear colognes. If I’m traveling a long way, I may have to set the schedule so that we eat at a reasonable time, and so on.
- Don’t miss your panel. Many times conventions take place in locations that have great sightseeing or provide interesting business opportunities. I’ve seen authors time and again who don’t make it to their panels because they’re off visiting a museum or meeting with movie producers. I feel like when folks have paid you to be there, being in your seat is a priority.
- Be your best. If you have talks to give, or readings, or need to moderate panels, do your homework and be prepared. This means that in addition to understanding the topic that you’ll speak on at a panel, learn enough about the other panelists to see what unique insights they might bring to the table, and let them talk.
- Remember that you’re working with volunteers, and sometimes things just don’t go right. Many of these people are putting out heroic efforts, but even well-intentioned people will get things wrong. For example, a few months back I was asked to go to a convention that had just started. They sent me a contract the appearance, and when I saw the terms, if I’d had any hair, it would have curled. They wanted me to indemnify the convention in case anyone accused me of . . . what, making them upset? The way the contract read, if the convention got sued, I agreed to pay the damages. It didn’t matter if I was guilty or not, I just had to have been accused. It was just after the Me Too movement started, and it seemed obvious that they were worried about sexual harassment charges, but the language in the contract was so broad that it really sounded as if I could be sued for just appearing. I called the convention organizer and found that the legal volunteer was pretty new. The lawyer rightly wanted to protect the convention as well as possible, and apparently hadn’t considered the constitutional rights of the authors. So after explaining my concerns to the organizer, I didn’t sign the contract and went to the convention anyway. Problem solved. You’re likely to have little snags with just about any convention. Remember, you’re dealing with volunteers.
- Look for ways to save the convention money.
- Remember that the convention staff is made up of fans. Many conventions have an “after-convention” party. Fans who didn’t have time to meet you during the convention would love to hang out with you, if your schedule allows, so try to fit this into your schedule.
- Solve your own problems as efficiently and quickly as you can. If for some reason you can’t fulfill your duties at a convention, apologize and let the convention know as soon as possible.
- Look for ways to be helpful at the convention. For example, if another guest gets ill, offer to fill in on his or her panels, if you’re qualified to do so.
- Remember to thank the convention organizers, the volunteers, and the fans for their kindness in having you as a guest.
- Be fun and stimulating, but have fun, too!
I recently spoke on the Legendarium Podcast, and discussed “Enders Game,”. If you are curious about it, you can listen to the podcast here.
On My Way to Paradise
A dusty gray hovercraft floated to a stop in front of my booth in the feria. As its door flipped open an emaciated woman struggled up from the shadows within and into the stabbing daylight. A strange feeling swept over me, the physical shock one feels upon recognizing an old friend whose face has been marred by tragedies. I searched my memory for an elusive name. Her head slumped and rolled from side to side as she moved. Sweat stained the armpits of her black skinsuit, and blood dripped from the bandaged stump at the end of her right arm. An old mestizo woman lurched away from the craft, made the sign of the cross, and muttered “¡Qué horror!” A small boy gaped at the thin woman and moaned “¡Una bruja!” and the crowd murmured in agreement that this walking skeleton must be a witch.
She staggered to my booth, shouldering past curious peasants, and thrust her bloody stump over the counter. I opened
my mouth, hoping my tongue would find the name my mind couldn’t supply, as she demanded in English, “Are you Señor Angelo Osic?”
I nodded, relieved that she didn’t know me, secure in the knowledge that her husky voice was unfamiliar.
She braced herself on the counter, trembling. “Can you fix this . . . this body?”
“Sí—yes,” I said, gently prodding the stump at the end of her arm. “Do you have your hand? Perhaps we could reconnect it.”
Her wound was fresh, but would soon be infected. “A new hand will take months to grow—months more to be usable. Might I suggest that a prosthesis would be fast—”
“Do a hand. Now! And bones too. I need bones.” She talked with the quick, commanding voice of the rich refugiados from the Estados Unidos Socialistas del Sur. I thought she must be a criminal from Guyana or the American colonies in Brasilia Independiente. I studied her closely: The slope of her shoulders and her narrow cheeks indicated that she’d been born with a small frame, but even if she had bone disease too, the two factors couldn’t account for the small diameter of her joints. “How long were you in low G?” I asked.
“Never been in low G,” she lied.
“You should be in the hospital,” I told her, afraid to deal with a criminal. “I am only a poor pharmacologist. And my drugs are not as miraculous as people sometimes claim.”
“Fix me!” she said. “No hospitals. No questions.” She pulled out a computer crystal as long as her hand and slipped it into my palm. Its smooth, nonglare surface was virtually invisible, except for the packet of liquid RAM at one end. It was fine crystal, Fugitsu quality, worth a small fortune, perhaps even enough to buy a rejuvenation treatment. I had never been able to afford a rejuvenation, and needed one badly.
“You need a place to rest—a hospital bed,” I said.
She leaned forward, and I saw she was young, much younger than I had first imagined; her black hair fell in front of her deep-set, black eyes and her sweaty face paled with genuine terror. “If you ball me over, I die,” she said.
In that moment when she showed her terror, I thought she was beautiful. I felt a strong urge to help her, to comfort her. Telling myself she might not be a criminal, I got out of my booth and locked its rusted aluminum door, then escorted her back to the hovercraft. I gave the driver my address in Gatún and told him to go by way of Avenida Balboa. He drove slowly through the crowded feria, and soon the thin woman closed her eyes and curled into a ball and breathed in the wheezing manner of those deeply asleep. We floated past crowds of mestizos selling bright dresses and macaws, fresh fruit, cheap Thai microchips tumbling from earthenware pots. Everywhere their hungry eyes and gestures beckoned the merchant sailors from Europe, Africa, and Asia who searched the backwaters of Panamá for high-tech and contraband items. The local peasants became angry with my chauffeur for driving in a pedestrian zone and refused to move, so he flushed the hovercraft’s thrusters, blowing hot air and dust into the crowds, burning the naked legs of the children. Their curses and cries of pain came to me distantly through the thick glass of the windows. I felt dirty and sinful to be in that craft, and wished I hadn’t agreed to take care of the thin woman. I jacked in a call to Uppanishadi-Smith Corp. and ordered a limb-regeneration kit, an osteoporosis rehab packet, and a self-regulating canister of fluothane. I wetted my lips with my tongue and searched the faces in the crowd for a friend.
On the border of the free zone, the crowds thinned and I found Flaco, a good friend who did not mind dealing with criminals as much as I did, and had the driver stop the limo. Flaco stood with some arms dealers who haggled with four guerrillas over the price of used body armor. One of the guerrillas pulled off a helmet, and I saw by his oversize, misshapen ears that he was a chimera—one of the genetically upgraded supermen General Torres had created in Chile before the socialists overthrew his regime. I watched the chimera search through the armor for a better helmet. Although he was short in stature, his frame was huge. In Haiti men had engineered ten-kilo fighting cocks with spurs long enough to disembowel a coyote, and no one had raised an eyebrow. But when Torres announced that he was engineering chimeras so they could live on other planets, the news caused fierce riots in Concepción, revolt in Temuco. I remembered a picture shown to me by a peasant from Talcahuano: he smiled as he and a fellow rioter each held the wingtip of a large brown creature, half bat, half man. He told me he’d clubbed it inside one of the engineering compounds. The Alliance of Nations had lodged formal protests of the work done in Chile.
The chimera finally picked the best helmet in the lot. He had a broad, pleasant smile, and I was happy he had come to fight the Colombians.
I waved to Flaco. He came to the hovercraft, stuck his narrow face through the window and raised an eyebrow as he saw the thin woman.
“Hola, Angelo. So, you have taken to dating dead women?” he said, laughing. “Good idea. Very classy! Very sensible!”
I got out of the hovercraft, embraced Flaco, and walked out of the thin woman’s listening range. “Yes,” I said. “She’s quite a catch for an old man. Not only is she beautiful, but when I’m done with her, she’ll make fine fertilizer for the lawn.” Flaco laughed. I handed him the crystal. “What is the value of this?”
Flaco rolled it over in his hand. “Any software on it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe 400—500 thousand,” he said.
“Will you check its registration code? I think it’s stolen. Also,” I whispered, “I must know who this woman is. Can you get a retina scanner and bring it to my home tonight?”
“Yes, my friend,” Flaco whispered. He glanced at the woman in the floater. “Once, I saw a spider with legs that thin—” he said, “I stepped on it.” He patted my shoulder, then laughed.
I got in the hovercaft and left the free zone. And as we floated down the highway on the outskirts of Colón, we rolled past the evenly spaced rows of banana plants. Because I’d never floated down that road in a fast car before, I noticed for the first time how perfectly ordered the plantations were, with each plant three meters from its neighbor. I lost my eyes while serving in the army in Guatemala as a young man, and had them replaced with prosthetics. They register colors in the infrared spectrum as shimmers of light, something like the sheen one sees glimmering off platinum in the sunlight. And on this day the dark green canopy of the banana plants shimmered with infrared light. Under the canopy of leaves were jumbles of hammocks, burlap lean-to’s, tents, cardboard boxes and old cars—squalid, temporary shelters for the refugiados who were fleeing the socialist states in South America. The refugiados were afraid to brave their way through Costa Rica to the north, so they huddled together, waiting for ship passage to Trinidad or Madagascar or some other imaginary capitalist paradise.
I looked at the homes among the plantations and thought it strange to see such disorder among order. It reminded me of an incident from my childhood: a family of murderers called the Battistas Sangrientos had been caught selling body organs outside our village. When the police caught them, they took the family to the beach to execute them in front of the whole town so people would know what a despicable crime had been committed. Three boys in this family were only children, perhaps ten to twelve years old, and it was rumored that when gutting victims these boys often raced each other to salvage the most precious organs. But all the Battistas swore the boys were innocent. And when the police got ready to shoot the family, the Captain told them to form a line, but the young boys clung to their murderous father and refused to leave. The policemen clubbed the boys, and it took a long time for the police to get the family to stand in line. And once the family was standing in a line, it took a long time for the Captain to give the order for the firing squad to shoot. I have always believed that the Captain waited just so he could enjoy that moment of watching them stand in line. And as the bullets tore through the children I wondered, Why could the Captain not shoot them while in a huddle, clutching their father? What difference did it make?
When we reached my home, I carried the thin woman to the cool basement and laid her on a blanket on the floor. I checked her pulse and was looking at the bandage on her stump when I heard a foot scuff on the carpet behind me. The limo driver had brought in two small bags and set them down. I paid him for the thin woman’s fare, and it took all of my cash money. I escorted him from the house and asked if he would drive me to Colón for free since he was going that way. He said no, so I walked the eleven kilometers back to Colón to pick up my drugs at Uppanishadi-Smith Corp.
I enjoyed the walk back home. My house was old and the plaster walls were crumbling, but all the other houses in the area were also in poor repair, so it didn’t look bad by comparison. Some people even thought it was a rich person’s house because it was on the lake and because they couldn’t imagine a morphogen dealer not being rich. But I had once hustled rejuvenations in the penthouses of Miami, where people never seemed to overcome the boredom of their hollow lives, where a person’s obtainment of a rejuvenation treatment was often the prelude to suicide. I would sun myself on my rooftop in the afternoons, and dream of a simple place where people lived lives of passion. I found that place when I found Panamá.
By the time I got back home the sun had just set. The air was getting cool. Flaco lay under the papaya tree in my front yard, watching a large brown fruit bat gorge on the uppermost papayas and spill dark seeds to the ground. “¡Hola¡ Angelo,” he called when he saw me. “I brought that thing you wanted. Spider Legs is inside. She’s awake now. I brought beautiful yellow roses for her. She likes them as much as that bat likes papayas. I think her nose is stuck to the flowers.”
“So, you have met her?” I asked.
“Yes. I told her I am a doctor, and that you called me in to administer medications.”
“Did she believe you?”
“Oh yes, I am a very good liar,” Flaco laughed. “Also, that crystal did have software on it—old military software.”
“Yes. A reality program for a brain bag.”
I had once heard a doctor at a convention give a speech on reality programs. The military attached them to brains when they needed to store them for transplanting. The reality program kept the transplantee from suffering sensory deprivation, so he wouldn’t become paranoid or psychotic. It locked him in a dream where he ate, worked, slept, and did other routine things, unaware he was separated from his body. But the reality program can only tap into existing memories and vary scenarios by merging portions of those memories. The brain bag then monitors the brain’s reaction to the scenarios and keeps it from becoming surprised or shocked. “Is it stolen?” I asked.
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