I was asking myself the above question, coming back from ICFA. There are certainly plenty of reasons not to go to conventions. The main one is of course expense: I usually budget about $600 for a convention, with airfare, a hotel room, and food. That’s a lot of money. And of course there’s always an investment of time as well. I asked that question in particular after ICFA because usually I’m working much harder at conventions. At Boskone, for example, I was on six panels and did a reading. At ICFA I did a reading, that’s all I was officially scheduled for. And then I also participated in a podcast for Locus. I spent a lot of time just sitting and talking to people. So what did I actually get out of the convention?
I’m going to list these as they come to me, so not in any particular order. But I met Peter Straub and was able to tell him how much I liked the issue of Conjunctions he had edited. I was also able to meet Rachel Swirsky for the first time. And I had a chance to sit down and talk with Jeff Ford, who is usually difficult to catch because he’s so busy at conventions himself. So I was able to meet and talk with people I had not met before or don’t see all that often. I had a chance to talk with Veronica Schanoes and Helen Pilinovsky, who are both wonderful scholars of the fantastic, and remind them that I was now editing Folkroots, so if they had ideas for columns, they should contact me. I talked to Brian Attebery about my dissertation. He reminded me about the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts and encouraged me to submit a scholarly article. I had brought ten books for the book room, all of which sold by the second day, so I ended up signing those books and a bunch of other things I had written. I also delivered a contract and received a check. I’ve been told I can tell you about that project, so here it is:
It’s an anthology called Kafkaesque: Stories After Kafka, and it’s going to be edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, and published by Tachyon Books. It’s going to include stories about Kafka or that show Kafka’s influence in some way, and Jim and John are going to include my story “The Rapid Advance of Sorrow.” I’ve seen the table of contents, and although I’m not sure whether I’m allowed to reveal that yet, it’s going to be a wonderful book.
Based on my conversations with them about Kafkaesque, I came up with an anthology idea of my own and started discussing it with people in the anthology business. This one I won’t talk about, because it’s just an idea. But that’s certainly one reason to go to conventions: ideas start bouncing around, and before you know it, you have an anthology project to work on.
There were other smaller things, like meeting Connie Willis for the first time (smaller only because I didn’t actually get to talk to her, but certainly important), catching up with people like Andy Duncan, Paul Park, Ted Chiang, Gary Wolfe, Farah Mendelsohn, and generally getting a sense for what was going on in the writing world. And also, and this really is significant to me personally, meeting students in MFA programs and young writers in general who told me they read and liked my work. That means a lot, and it’s one of the things that motivates me on days when I don’t have as much motivation as I should.
So, I’m not sure I can do a cost-benefit analysis. The $600 was worth it to me, not because of the things I was scheduled to do, or even the unscheduled but relatively official things like the Locus podcast. It was worth it because of all the unscheduled, unofficial things. Because of the connections I made or renewed.
Why go to conventions? I would always argue for doing as much as you can at each convention. Take the panels, take the opportunities to moderate. But I think the only answer to the question I posed is: because you never know what will happen, what you will get out of it. You might get to meet someone, get a story idea, get a stronger or perhaps different sense of yourself as a writer. That’s why I would go.
This morning I boarded a plane at 6:00 a.m., and although I did get some sleep after arriving in Lexington, I’m still very tired. And I’ve come back to a significant amount of work, waiting to be done. There’s something magical about a convention, about being with so many people working on projects, discussing ideas. It’s an intensely creative space, and while you’re in it, you feel more alive. So there’s always a feeling you get – or at least I get, when I come back. It’s a sense of deflation, that I’m back to ordinary life now. It always makes me feel a little sad. So I just need to make sure that my ordinary life has that creativity, that magic, in it as well. Even if it doesn’t have a lake, or a sign that says not to feed the alligators, or incredibly smart people sitting around and talking about their work.
I have been thinking about this question myself while reading various ICFA reports this weekend. ICFA’s on my list of maybe, someday conventions. If “the fantastic in the arts” were closer to something the IRS would believe was work-related for me, I’d be more inclined. But in my current situation, it’s not. I admit to having a bit of a Florida phobia as well (based on both climate and politics. not a fan of humidity, me), so if they ever relocated, I’d be more interested. But that’s all specific to ICFA and doesn’t address the larger question. I have dabbled with approaching speculative fiction as an academic and as a writer but have not committed to either. I’m not fully immersed in fan culture; WisCon is the only con I attend regularly. Several of the friends I used to connect with there are starting to move on to other things themselves. So why do I go? As you say, I am attracted to the creativity there, the ideas and reminder that I could make a commitment to writing (about) speculative things if I truly want to. And I suspect I’m drawn to going because I like being reminded of that possibility, whether or not I choose to follow through.
(in the short-term, my ability to travel is affected not only by funds but also by an elderly cat, his multiple medications, and an absence of housemates. Finding cat care while I’m away is increasingly stressful, probably more for me than for him. It’s not only an added expense to cons but also generates a lot of pre-departure anxiety for me. I am curious to see whether my travel fears diminish the next time I find myself between cats.)
Brilliant work Ms. Goss. In my opinion, conventions among bosses foster creativity. I simply adore attending these “boss conventions,” which perpetually inspire me to be epic.