Many of you are traveling to fiction/writing-related conventions this weekend. Here are some things I’ve learned about cons over the past 20 years, as both guest and attendee.
—A genre convention is largely defined by three elements: location, the quality and type of the group mind running the con, and the people, guests and attendees, who animate that location and vision.
—The plan of any con’s group mind butts up against the state of mind of the attendees and guests at the point of connection.
—Location can reflect the true desires of the group mind, but more often it reflects the strong desire to save money. (A website is also a location: what it says about a con may be that you’ll be time-traveling back to the 1990s.)
—When conventions isolate their attendees, it’s often stated that this is to make people focus more fully on the experience. Rarely is this the truth. Usually it has to do with some eccentricity of the creators of the con, or a control issue.
—Sometimes, when a convention moves to a new location, the group mind is fleeing some great catastrophe elsewhere, or simply trying to escape a location that new guests cannot understand was actually about a thousand times worse than the current purgatory.
—A con hotel in conflict with the convention committee may manifest as fits of pique: no tableclothes on the banquet tables, for example, revealing rough wood surfaces, splinters, and massive iron staples or even evil raising of room temperature…
—Con food depends on the hotel, how and where it is presented on the con. Levels of goodness depend on how thoughtlessness and thoughtfulness wrestle with each other in the con committee’s group mind (with expense always an issue, of course). A bad con mind will determine that, because they like candy for breakfast, the guests will too…
—Without a bar, a convention is starved for conversation. No introvert worth the name performs well without at least one drink…even if it’s just a glass of water.
—A good sign the con is in the wrong venue is if there are floors missing in the hotel.
—Wireless is like the pulse of a con location. Thready, ghostly wireless that dips in and out is like a thready pulse: a cause for concern.
—Con suites are sweaty stink-barges that provide a test for attendees: if you don’t notice, you have been assimilated.
—Panels without moderators are like con suites without ventilation.
—If you are invited to a con and then given lists of rules that boil down to making yourself unobtrusive and not putting on airs, perhaps you shouldn’t in future accept the invite to the United Socialist Workers Convention.
—If the stage hosting your presentation will in 24 hours be featuring David Cassidy and Engelbert Humperdinck, you are allowed to interpret this as a good or a bad thing depending on the state of your career.
—If the person reading before you goes over by 30 minutes, it is perfectly okay to enlist the help of the mighty John Kessel to clear your predecessor from the room.
—If your reading is not listed on the program and the location is only vaguely alluded to, it is okay if you wind up at the top of some creaky stairs in a room full of Jeffrey Fords, Gwyneth Jones, and Liz Williams, but no audience.
—This last observation is the most important: no matter how well or poorly a con is run, you will always have either good stories about bad things or good memories about great conversations.