This weekend I attended Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association’s annual science fiction/fantasy writing convention. Although I had attended Capclave two years ago for just one short evening, this was my first full weekend of attendance, and to be honest, my very first Con ever. A wonderful friend, Alan Smale (author of the extraordinary Clash of Eagles trilogy), recommended me to the con committee for participation in programming. I was excited, but nervous, navigating the process of scheduling and topic assignment for the first time. How would I be received on my panels? Would I make a fool of myself? Do I have anything of value to contribute?
I am not a pro. Yet. I have not made even a semi-pro sale. But I’ve had several stories published with small and independent presses, and have received a few accolades to encourage me to continue writing. I continue to approach writing with passion and professional interest, and I have long been a widely read and very passionate fan of the genre. This wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy has been undergoing a dramatic redefinition of identity in recent years, pitting the die-hard conservative-traditionalists against the growing movement to recognize the contributions of women and minorities to the field. I know that’s a rather simplistic breakdown of a very complicated topic, but I also know clearly where I fall within the conflict. I’m part of a new generation of writers who has not been very interested in spending the brief moments I get to sit down and read on Asimov or Heinlein or outdated, misogynistic, racist fiction. I’d much rather be reading anything from the wealth of beautiful, diverse fiction that is being championed nowadays: N.K. Jemisin, Alyssa Wong, Saladin Ahmed, Ken Liu, V.E. Schwab, Charlie Jane Anders – those are just the last six authors that I’ve read on my Kindle. I could go on and on and on. I am so lucky to be living and writing in a world where I can experience the boundless imaginative worlds of people so different from who I am. I crave those books. I need those books. I wish to write those books.
At the end of my last panel on Sunday, a very nice man who had been in the audience of several of my panels approached me. We’d had a lovely time chatting briefly in the hallways over the two days and his questions and historical knowledge of SF/F were fabulous and enriched the panels. He said “If you hadn’t told everyone you were a beginning writer, I wouldn’t have know. You did a great job.” It was a wonderful compliment, but I responded, “People need to know that Capclave is welcoming to beginning writers and young women in this field.” I didn’t mention that I was just starting to be published to demean or downplay my contributions, but to emphasize where my voice is coming from.
I was on three panels, Augmented Reality in SF, Technology in SF and a panel on villains and antagonists. Never once was I spoken over, put down, or mansplained. Not a single person approached me with anything but interest in who I was and a shared passion for our field. I was welcomed, encouraged, and validated. I never felt dismissed by my fellow participants. I met other writers who were mothers and fathers, people who have been writing since the 1960s, writers with their first novels on submission, writers with dozens of novels to their name, people from all backgrounds and experience levels. In this world where women are harassed and belittled and targeted everyday, where female and minority authors have to travel in protective pairs at conventions, and where harassment is a terrifying reality for many, I cannot tell you what a relief it was this weekend to feel safe and welcomed.
Alan mentioned to me that part of what makes Capclave special in this broad world of so many conventions is that it is small and intimate. The hotel is small and welcoming. The attendance is only in the few hundreds, and although I know the con committees would rather have more audience members, both of the times I have attended, the halls have felt busy but not unpassable. You have the opportunity to stop and chat with the guest of honor at the bar, or over a coffee at Starbucks in the lobby. You get to know faces quickly and smile and wave and make spontaneous plans for dinner. The panels have always had open seats, but are well attended (except for the 10 am Saturday panel – that one was rather scarce!). The programming is focused on the craft of writing. My highlights of the con were attending panels on Research, Alternate & Secret Histories, Matching your Idea with Plot and Character, Conspiracy Theories, and When to be Stubborn as a Writer. Authors had the opportunity to request time to read from their works, to sign books at a table right next to registration, and to participate in a mass signing in the evening on Saturday just before the WSFA small press awards.
It was at this large group signing event that I found myself in the enviable position of sitting between Bud Sparhawk and John G. Hemry (who writes as Jack Campbell). What new writer gets the opportunity to talk shop with authors who have collectively published more novels and stories than years I have been alive? We bemoaned the lack of good paying short fiction markets today, shared about writers blocks that often come after difficult times in ones life, chatted about the importance of critique groups and complimented talented cover artists. What extraordinary luck – what truly decent and kind gentlemen – what an evening I had, feeling bolstered and encouraged in my conviction that I can do this. I can write – I can publish – I can finish this novel – I can hold my own in this vast world of so many authors, editors, agents, publishers. What a weekend.
My crash back to reality came Sunday evening after driving home mid-afternoon; making dinner, helping with bedtime, shuffling reluctant kiddos through their evening routines, all while trying to fill Patrick in on the magnitude of how successful the weekend was. Every other sentence of my rambling excitement was interrupted by a small child needing a kiss on their knee, or not wanting to eat THIS soup, or needing to compare the character differences between ninjas and rogues in D&D, or wanting their iPad, or pouring buckets of water out of the bath tub. For the first time in nearly nine years, I finally had an experience where I was able to present and define myself as a functional adult human being, and not just a mother of young children, or the spouse of someone recovering from a devastating accident and spinal injury. It was both liberating and lopsided. I am still, first and foremost, a primary caregiver to my two boys. My definition of self is in flux, but the immutable fact is that my priorities will not change for the foreseeable future. I must find a way to make space for who I’d like to be as my children grow into their own selves, and I reclaim more and more of my independence in the process.
My daily conflict comes in how to find the time to focus on something other than parenting or managing our family. In the midst of kids activities, never-ending childhood illnesses, Patrick’s recovery, DIY house renovations, financial budgeting, health insurance fiascos, school responsibilities, and every other planning/list making/cleaning/comforting responsibility, I must write. It’s not something I can put off now, or avoid because I feel insecure or self-conscious about prioritizing my hobby over my family. I called my dear friend after the con and said “I have to do this now. I WANT this. I want to write. For me. It’s time I started thinking about how amazingly good it feels to write, and not thinking about how stressful my life is going to be because I’m writing.”
Monday was a school holiday for my boys. I found myself in a mental limbo for most of the morning, wrapped up in replaying the weekend piece by piece, codifying and processing so much of what I’d learned. I mustered my scant energy mid-day and peeled the kiddos from the TV and meandered our way around town, picking out Halloween pumpkins, going to swim lessons, and stopping by the library. As we shoveled our massive bag of almost overdue books into the return slots, a nice man approached with a resigned look on his face. “Is it closed today?” he asked. I nodded, apologetic, “It is.” He sighed, “As was the post office.” He stood on the sidewalk, taking a moment, watching my kids climb over the sculpture of books beside the parking lot. “I believe most public and government spaces are closed today, unfortunately. Thus, the children,” I gestured wearily to the kiddos. He nodded kindly and turned to leave, but looked back at me. “That would be an excellent book title. Thus, the children.”
You read my mind, sir.