Fear and Loathing at RavenCon 2017

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I’m walking through the darkened courtyard of the DoubleTree Hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, trailing just behind Chris Kennedy. The sun has dropped from the sky, much like my morale after sitting in on a panel where one panelist plugged their book eighteen times. I know this because I kept tally. Eighteen.

Putting this from my mind, I increase my pace and try not to slip on the water-soaked cement. Some kid splashing  in the pool to my right has a writhing knot of multi-colored pool noodles underneath him. He shouts up at me from the water, “I bet you didn’t think you’d see someone with seven pool noodles in their trunks!”

It’s true, kid. I didn’t think I’d see that.

Careful to not get pulled into an existential conversation about the stuffing of pool noodles into bathing suits with no adult supervision around, I continue following Chris. He is navigating toward a suite being used by a publishing company. Apparently there is booze. I’m trailing like a lost puppy.

two men.jpgChris and I had communicated electronically, but this convention – Ravencon – was my first in-person meeting with him. We had joked about sharing a few beers. Him and I are both Navy vets, so a shared beer is sort of a sacred thing. It seemed Chris was making good on this promise. Unfortunately, the outside door that would give access to the suite is locked, a fatal flaw in his planning.

Undaunted, the quick-witted publisher/author stalks over to the fenced-in balcony where a collection of women puff on cigarettes. It’s the typical metal fencing you see at hotels of this type: waist high, blocky bars, not designed to keep your room from being ransacked, but meant to keep you from passing out and falling into the bushes or wandering into the pool for a final swim.

Chris asks the smoke breathing women if they would mind opening the door to the wing from the inside. Instead, they tell us to jump the fence. Opting for a less acrobatic solution, we squeeze through a one-foot space against the wall, slide the glass door open, and step inside.

A collection of men and women are sitting around and meandering about. A fold-out, veneer table to my left is covered in half-emptied bottles of hard liquor. Despite the age of the occupants attending this venue, the room décor was like that of a college party: plastic trashcans overflowing with bottles and trash, fold out chairs, crappy lighting, hotel carpeting – the works.

beer mug.pngEveryone stops talking, looks over at us, then one of the older men tells me to close the door behind me. After I complied with his orders, we walked over to a huddled circle of seated people. The Giver of Orders, a kindly man who didn’t want to be assaulted by cigarette smoke, produced a black cooler bag. It was packed with local craft beer. Happy and grateful to have obtained free social lubricant, I quickly empty the bottle while somewhat awkward conversation happens all around me.

You see, I’m no one. While most people in the room had titles under their belt, or had contributed to the production of multiple books, I have no published works to my name. As an editor, I’m mildly successful considering I’ve not been doing it professionally for long. But this is a room full of established editors, authors, and publishers. So, I did what I do best: drink, listen, drink, respond, drink, nod, drink, and smile.

I don’t pass out a single business card – despite having them made for the convention – and I didn’t tell a single person who I was or what I was doing there. I just play the fly-on-the-wall game until we all said our farewells. Chris headed home, and I wandered off to my room. Later that evening, I thought about what a missed opportunity that was while I worked my way through the beers I had stocked in my hotel fridge.

Less than a week later, while I was in the safety of my own home, Chris sent an offer to publish a science fiction series J.R. Handley and I have been outlining.

This, for me, is the purpose of something like RavenCon. It’s not about judging the merit of the panels (or panelists), or pimping your books to a room full of disinterested people. It’s certainly not about gloating about your successes and comparing yourself to others. Sometimes, it’s about wandering around, meeting people, pool noodles, jumping fences, and drinking the occasional beer. It’s about being present.


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7 responses

  1. Pingback: Reblog (My Experience at RavenCon) « Quintessential Editor

  2. Pool noodles in the pool? What kind of weirdo does that? They’re just for making LARP weapons, aren’t they? *shakes head*

    The last sci-fi convention I attended (admittedly, I don’t go to many, since doing so requires face-to-face interaction with humans) was FULL of people shouting ‘Buy my book!’ to all and sundry. The air itself seemed permeated with frantic desperation. At one gathering (it was supposed to be a chance to talk with some of the big-name authors in attendance), we got shuffled off into a room where an indie writer of gears-and-bustles steampunk held court and, as you say, ‘pimped her books.’ (Also, the tea wasn’t very good. *sigh*)

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The air itself seemed permeated with frantic desperation.” A classic line.

      I was a little disappointing because I plotted out all the panels I was going to attend. I was even going to tap into my journalism background and generate some informational stories based on what I gathered, so I could share tricks-of-the-trade with people over on my QE page. Unfortunately, every panel I attended was largely a sales platform, or the panelists (not all, but some) didn’t really have a clue what they were talking about. I’m not an all-knowing-expert-of-awesomeness, but if I’m sitting on a panel about tropes vs. cliches, I’m going to know what the difference is between the two. The absolute worst part was at the end of the panel when they would give the panelists the opportunity to talk about their books. I wanted to stand up and point at a couple of them and scream, “Nope! You and you already spent twenty minutes of this hour-long panel doing that!”

      On the plus-side, there were a lot of really neat people there, I loved the cosplay, I did buy a few books, and I got to meet up with a friend I hadn’t seen in six years. So it wasn’t a bad experience; it just could have been much better.

      Liked by 2 people

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