I just returned from four days at Miscon in Missoula, Montana. What a blast! Miscon is one of the most fun science fiction conventions around, and this year's writing guest of honor was George R. R. Martin, so you can imagine the excitement in the halls. The lines for his book signings stretched around corners and out doors onto the lawn. The rest of us sort of sat there and tried not to look like ants in the land of giants. :) Still, it was nice when he walked in and sat down at my book launch party for Windrider.
For me, going to conventions is a chance to meet fans face to face, to catch up with friends, and to talk about writing, books, publishing, and everything else under the sun in a congenial atmosphere. I get new ideas for stories plucked from the incredible ambiance of costumes, music, and genre-related events, books, posters, and general stuff floating around. The art show is always full of beautiful and original genre-related work, and the masquerade sometimes leaves me in awe of the general level of originality some of the costumers achieve. My feeble costume attempts are limited to an occasional hat (though not for want of desire. A clothes horse I am not.).
Cons give me a wonderful opportunity to learn from my peers and, I hope, to teach through my participation on panels. It gives me great pleasure to share knowledge I've acquired the hard way, because what is the point of knowledge hogged all to oneself? I mourn every time an older member of my family dies, not just because I will miss them as a person, but because of all the things they know that have gone with them. So many memories and experiences and unique bits of knowledge about times past that we can never know--all gone. As a historian, I find that a tragedy, a window into the past that has been forever closed. Therefore, I am happy to sit on panels and talk about things I've learned and that will, hopefully, be of value to the audience.
I also enjoy participating as a pro in the writers' workshops at conventions, where I hope the feedback I give is more helpful than hurtful. Having been on the receiving end of being skewered (often), I know just how it feels to discover your best effort is nowhere near as good as you thought it was. I admire all the brave souls who submit their stories to convention workshops, because it means sitting there face to face with people who have actually managed to persuade cold-hearted editors to part with real money for their work and receive their honest feedback. Those workshop writers have stepped so far beyond most of their aspiring peers just in making that effort that it is pure pleasure to help them advance their writing careers.
Not the least of the pleasures of regional cons in my area is the road trip that goes with it. I adore road trips and don't get to hit the pavement nearly as often as I'd like. With my suitcase and trusty laptop in the back seat and a rollicking CD on the pretty good sound system in my truck, I'm off and rolling, and the drive to Montana is particularly pretty. I can think about current projects or admire the passing scenery, and sing along with the CD in undisturbed privacy (yes, I'm one of those people you see warbling away, seemingly talking to themselves, as you pass me at 80). It blows out the cobwebs in fairly fine style. Too bad they grow back so fast!
At every convention I meet new people who become my friends, and I look forward to seeing them at the next one. That will be Westercon for me, in Seattle, complete with new victims, eh, sacrificial lambs, eh, writers to critique in the Fairwood Writers' Workshop there. I'm off to sharpen my knives now...
I hope I see some of you there. I certainly look forward to it.