Con Wrap-Up: WorldCon 76

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Friends, I have done it. I have made it home from WorldCon 76.

This was, as I think I have said on Twitter ad nauseam, my first WorldCon, and while I will not shy away from there being issues with this con, I will say that for me, personally, it was a rousing success, and I owe that to the people around me. I want to tell you more, and I am going to, but let me preface this with a warning that my brain is a blancmange due to lack of sleep and so I am going to be brief. I'd wait, but I feel to good to want to.

So what was so good? Let me count the ways. First of all, the panels I attended were all fantastic. "Writing About Fighting" was engaging, informative, and delightfully devoid of toxicity; Fonda Lee did a phenomenal job moderating that panel (even deftly shutting down the inevitable Commenter in the crowd), and she and her fellow panelists left me with a lot of good feelings about how I write fight scenes and how I can continue to level them up. Steven Barnes' presentation on Afrofuturism left me with hope for the future. "How to Pitch A Story" was an incredible peek behind the curtain of how pitching works from Jenn Brozek. The panel on body language was insightful and left the audience with useful tools and exercises for learning how to incorporate that pesky nonverbal communication into their prose. And the panel on Nontoxic Masculinity could have easily turned into a circus, but the panelists were smart and engaging and left me feeling like things are going to be OK if we try.

Beyond the panels, there were the books. Writers around me, on panels and in conversations, were happily pitching their books, and I have so much to read now. Fonda Lee's elevator pitch for Jade City rocketed it to the top of my TBR. Rosemary Smith's interactive fiction T-Rex Time Machine is getting downloaded onto my gaming computer as soon as I get a second. The Hugo nominees I have not read yet are right at the top of my stack with Jade City. And on. And on. And on.

The Hugos. Oh, the Hugos. After much vacillation, I decided to go try to get into the hall. I sat with my writing-friend and his wife, and I am so glad I did. I was in the room to see my fully-grown adult child Murderbot and their mom, Martha Wells, take home a well-deserved Best Novella. I watched Rebecca Roanhorse get up and tell us "y'all, a black Indigenous woman just won the Campbell Award!" and then get up again when she won for "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (tm)." I watched Best Editor, Long Form Sheila E. Gilbert just go ahead and call out that we can make change if we vote in the midterms and edit this world into one that makes sense. I heard MC John Picacio straight-up call out the hard work of RAICES in fighting a corrupt administration. And I was there when one of the GOATs, N.K. Jemisin, made much-deserved history with The Stone Sky and promised to raise a rocket-shaped middle finger to all those who say this is about identity politics rather than her well-earned success.

The biggest thing, though, was the tone. SFF is a community, of creators and consumers, and I felt that strongly here at WorldCon. The Hugo ceremony was actually a beautiful encapsulation of what it felt like all weekend: everyone from the pro-iest of pros to the rank-and-file fans was warm, nurturing, engaging, and kind. It was a weekend about progress, about empathy, about fighting the darkness.

I got to go to the SFWA suite for the first time this weekend. I exchanged business cards with award winners; I shook the hands of authors I admire, I hugged an author I adore, and I pitched and I pitched and I pitched. I was left with one inexorable thought: I belong here.

If I am going to talk about that, I need to talk about the biggest personal thing for me: the Isle of Write. The Isle of Write is my online writing community, which I joined by being fortunate enough to share a TOC with one of the Isle's previous members and getting invited via Twitter. They accepted me with open arms, and this weekend I got to meet many of them for the first time. Only one person before has ever made me felt so loved as they made me feel. I felt welcome, I felt seen, I felt cared about.

I do not join groups easily. I do not make friends easily. Anxiety makes me slow to trust, quick to scare, and constant to worry. Medication helps, but even then the thoughts intrude. I never had that this weekend, not with the Isle. Even when I made mistakes, I felt forgiven quickly, and it was effortless for me to do the same. And on Sunday night, one of the other Islanders and I were hugging goodbye after the Hugos, and she took me by the shoulders and said "Some agent is going to love your novel, You are going to be okay." I told her the same, and that we loved her, and she said "And the same to you." And I knew, through all the haze of anxiety I usually feel, that it was true. I am blessed to have the friends I have, to get to support them and be supported by them, and this weekend cemented that. Sonya told me over text that she believes in me and my writing, and that is the most important thing in the world; but seeing the Isle believe in me too leaves me feeling indescribably happy.

I will not pretend there were not issues -- especially around accessibility and people being blindered by privilege -- but I will save that for a different post. For now, I have a Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion to open and some relaxing to do before I have to go back to my day job tomorrow; but I do it knowing without a doubt that I have picked the right career. WorldCon 76 was a weekend about what I write for, and I will never forget that.