Content Notice: One paragraph of this blog post mentions misgendering. I’ve blocked it off with horizontal lines so you can skip it if you need to.
FOGCon 9 has been and gone, and I am back out in civilization, trying to remember how things work. I think this is my favorite con I have ever attended, and I could not ask for a better con to begin this, my debut year as a novelist. (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…)
I got to the convention in not the best mental health space. Some anxiety and PTSD triggers hit me on the way in (nothing anyone did, just unfortunate coincidences), which combined with the tail end of this awful course of steroids I’ve been taking got me overloaded and crying in the hotel room. Sonya, champion that she is, helped me talk through it and develop a plan going forward so I don’t overload. I mention this not to get pity, but to make clear that my positive experience at the con came on the heels of getting extremely low, which should speak to how great this really was.
I was checked in at registration by a person in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Later I saw someone working the same desk wearing a Nasty Woman t-shirt. Setting the expectation that this con was both progressive and a safe space for more marginalized groups was such a huge breath of fresh air.
From there, I was off to my very first panel of the weekend, “Debut Author Lessons.” That I was programmed opposite the first panel on which Becky Chambers (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet) was a panelist didn’t exactly have me less nervous. But it started on an extremely positive note, with Sonya and one of my friends (whom I do not have consent to name at this time) making sure I had water and had put some of my Imaginary Corpse bookmarks on the freebie tables and that I felt OK. (Get yourself a support network, fellow writers, it makes a world of difference). It then got better again when the moderator came in and asked me immediately to help her out with something urgent, which made me feel like Maybe I Belonged Here, and then kindly introduced herself and congratulated me on the book (the first meatspace stranger to do so!).
The panel itself was a fantastic experience. The other panelists were fascinating to listen to, and we had such a wide variety of experiences to draw from. The questions the audience asked were helpful and insightful and allowed us to aim the conversation to the topics on which they needed advice. I got to help encourage a child to keep writing, and I was able to make contact with a young man trying to break into the business and let down a ladder for him, which is something I promised myself I would do when I made it.
Which, let me just talk about that for a second. This panel gelled that feeling of “making it” in a way nothing before it had. I always assumed that when I got the novel offer, when I got to be a published novelist with a book baby to call my own, there’d be a palpable change. I thought I’d had it the day I announced The Imaginary Corpse, but I didn’t know that I was going to almost miss this one happening. I was sitting there after the panel, and that man came up to me and shook my hand, took my business card and bookmark, and he asked if he could pick my brain about how to break in to the industry. And that was when I realized, I had just spent over an hour chatting with other writers about our books, our real books that really are happening and have happened; and I was helping writers treading the path I’d already tread to find their way. I was a real writer.
When I said that my book comes out on September 10th, the audience applauded. I teared up. Thank you all so much for all your congratulations, they mean so much to me.
Bonus: It turns out Vylar Kaftan is also a huge fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and now I have a new board-game buddy in the writing community. We are legion!
My second panel of the weekend was also spectacular: Non-Toxic Friendships Between Men. To say I was dreading what that panel could be (hint: it rhymes with “hit show”) is an understatement. It was not only not what I was afraid it would be, it was the exact opposite. The panelists were vulnerable, thoughtful, and progressive. The audience echoed that vulnerability and insight. When I asked people not use ableist slurs, it got applause. And perhaps most importantly, the panelists were willing to admit when they’d misspoken in a harmful way.
Which leads me to the thing I CN’d about…I have apologized on Twitter and Facebook, and in person to the person I directly caused harm to, but I believe in making sure I do it wherever I talk about this con so that I don’t duck responsibility.
During the audience questions segment at the end of the panel, I made a horrible mistake, and addressed a trans man in a way that sounded as though I was saying he was not a man. I realized what I’d done too late to apologize during the panel, but I found them and apologized to them afterwards. If anybody else in the audience was harmed or upset by what I said, I’m very sorry, and if you feel you need a direct apology in person, here in the comments, or on Twitter, I will certainly do so. I am going to strive to be better about how I speak so that I do not come off as assuming another person’s identity without either asking (if appropriate) or it being volunteered.
Beyond my own panels, I also had a great time at the programming I attended. I went to two readings, both of which had some amazing stories on tap (I have some links for you at the bottom of this post). I attended Becky Chambers’ fantastic overview of space exploration missions ongoing in our solar system. I went to “A Sense of Place” on Saturday, which gave me some resources to use to work on my world-building chops; and “Girl Gang” on Sunday morning, which was engaging, enlightening, and informative (speaking as a man and therefore not a participant in female friendships). This con had the most consistently great programming I have experienced yet — the worst I ever heard said of a panel was that it stayed a bit 101-level regarding its stated topic (which can really be a matter of the panel reading its audience), and was one case of “Panelist who disagrees with the entire premise of the panel and wants to derail the panel to talk about it” (which the con staff cannot control for ahead of time unless the perpetrator is really pretty blatant).
In addition to the programming being great, the atmosphere and the community at FOGCon are the things that stand out. Everyone I met was friendly, empathetic, and thoughtful in how they spoke to people. I never felt cut out of a conversation during the inevitable BarCon session; indeed, I never felt anything but welcomed and wanted. It was also the safest con I have ever been to; I could just tell from the vibe that people were not going to tolerate shitty behavior or boundary violations. Everyone who wanted to hug me stopped and asked “Can we hug?” At one point, Sonya walked up behind me and touched me on the head to announce her presence, and I knew immediately it was her, rather than being startled, because I just knew that nobody at FOGCon was going to touch me from behind without permission. Even the name-tents got in on it — I got a name-tent for each panel I was on, and on the back was the panel description and a note of when, what, and where my next panel was; and on the one for my last panel, a thank you for being a part of the con. FOGCon has an amazing community, from the staff down to the attendees, and I really hope to see more and more of them popping up on my social media feeds soon.
On the way home, I told Sonya that it was such a weird experience, in a good way, to have my transition from “aspiring writer” to “writer who hangs out with the other writers at the con” be so sudden and seamless and easy. It would not have been at a bigger con with a less welcoming vibe, I am sure. I told Sonya, and surprised myself in the process, that a part of me never really thought I’d get here (prompting the second tearing up of the weekend). If I had to pick a con at which to realize that I had pulled it off, I couldn’t have picked a better one.
Thanks, FOGCon. I’ll do my best to make sure I see you next year.