To begin, I almost didn’t get there. Stupid, stupid me, I forgot that Canada was in fact a foreign country, so when I showed up at the airport without a birth certificate and/or a passport, they wouldn’t let me on the plane. The good news was that Continental was so kind as to credit me for the cost of the ticket for transport at some point in the near future. The bad news is that I needed to be in Toronto from Ohio by 3pm in the afternoon (I was on a panel), and it was already closing in on 7am.
I raced home and went onto Mapquest, at which point I discovered Toronto was a mere 425 miles away. Suddenly I was breathing easier. Anyone from California knows that 425 miles is right around the same distance as San Francisco from Los Angeles, and if you’re from California and can’t drive that distance in six hours or less, I do believe they actually take your driver’s license away in sheer disgust. So I hopped into the car, averaged about 80 miles an hour in the US and 130km in Canada, and even factoring Toronto weekday afternoon traffic, made it into the hotel and thence to the convention center with about an hour to spare. Had I known Toronto was only 425 miles away to begin with, I would have driven on purpose and saved myself a lot of pain.
Toronto is a lovely city, at least the half a mile of it that I saw. I am told that most people who come to World Science Fiction Conventions (as Torcon was) don’t really get out much beyond the primary hotel (where all the parties are held) and the convention centers (where panels, readings and big events are held), and that certainly seemed to be the case here. There were 4,000 people almost continually engaged in the process of walking back and forth between the Royal York hotel and the Convention Centre, and I have to think that every business along that path did gangbuster business while the business right off it probably didn’t see any action at all. Certainly I didn’t deviate from the path. Be that as it may, every Toronto native I met (Torontite? Torontonians?) was uniformly pleasant; even the occasional pan-handler was well-spoken.
Torcon was sort of bifurcated into two spheres: Fans and Pros. Fans are just that — primarily enthusiasts of either science fiction/fantasy or the various “fandom” activities that go on at a Con (these include masquerades, filk singing (“filk” being folk music on SF/F themes), and various fan-related parties), while the pros include the writers (of course) but also editors, publishers, booksellers, agents and publishing house staff members. There is substantial interplay between the spheres — SF/F fandom folk jump the fence and become pros with some regularity, and of course writers and other pros are all about the fan service (the pro who sets himself or herself above fandom is asking to get beat). But at the same time, I definitely got the feeling of two parallel conventions going on at the same time.
I didn’t have too much interaction with the fandom side of it, primarily because while I’m technically a “pro,” my book isn’t out and may not be out for more than a year. My name has a slight bit of currency because of the Whatever and (more recently) the stuff I’m doing for AOL, and there is SF/F Geek and Web Geek overlap. But by and large no one in fandom has the slightest idea who I am. I went to a number of parties and chatted with a reasonable number of fans and passed out my specially-made Torcon cards, which listed my books and also my convention schedule. By and large, though, I was an invisible man to the fans.
I spent most of my time hanging out with the people on the pro side of things. This was a great deal of fun for a number of reasons. One, despite having sold an SF book and being a great reader of SF, and also not a novice to book publishing, I nevertheless know fairly little about the dynamics of SF/F publishing and bookselling, so this was sort of a “diving into the deep end” experience for me, getting to know more about the minutiae of the processes involved. Of course, I learned about them primarily at parties, so it’s drunken information. But I do believe that’s the best sort of information there is.
Also, and primarily, hanging with the pros allowed me to meet a number of people whose work I have admired for years and also to hang out with a number of kind folks who didn’t seem to mind overly that I was butting into their well-established social groups, as well as meet other new(erish) authors with whom to bond.
People from all these groups included (deep breath): Cory Doctorow (with whom I am pictured above), Nick Sagan, Charlie Stross, Scott Westerfield, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, Irene Gallo, China Mieville, Allen Steele, Jim Kelly, Melanie Miller Fletcher, Walter Jon Williams, Harry Harrison, Robert Silverberg, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Jed Hartman, Paul Levinson, Lesley Livingston, Lucienne Diver, Geoffrey Landis, Jerry Weist, Allan Beatts, Jude Feldman, and of course Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I spent most of my time hanging out with Nick and his lovely wife Clinnette, both of whom made me feel like I knew both of them for years and years, or glomming on to Cory and/or Irene and whomever they were with (a bold and closely-connected group) down at the Royal York bar.
In addition to being a spectator and partier, I also participated in two panels and gave a reading. The panels I thought were okay, but it was the reading that I was the most juiced up/nervous about. Also, as I have mentioned previously, as I don’t have a book out and none of the fans know who I am, I was also wondering who if anyone would actually show up. Thus I was relieved/gratified when six people actually attended: Nick, Cory, Justine and Scott, Charlie and an actual person who I didn’t know and who seemed to be there for me. They all laughed in the places at which they were supposed to laugh, so that felt good. Afterwards Charlie (who helps other people in public speaking) gave me some advice for future readings, which boiled down to: Talk slower and don’t put an hour’s worth of reading into half an hour. Which is, of course, excellent advice.
My understanding from people who had been to numerous conventions was that Torcon was not especially successful as far as WorldCons go — its programming was disorganized, and that it was not going to end up in a very nice financial situation when all was said and done. I can’t speak to the financial end, although on the programming end it did seem disorganized: I did hear about panelists schedule for two panels at once, and people’s readings and appearances were continually moved around — and then of course there is the mystery of me being scheduled for a reading when I hadn’t asked for one. My utter lack of Con experience helps me here since I have way to compare. I noted to the Torcon organizer that this was my first con, and he said, “Oh, so this is will be your yardstick to compare all other cons by.” I couldn’t tell if he thought this was a good thing or not.
It was a very good con for me regardless. I met quite a few very interesting folks with whom I hope to remain in contact and for the first time actually got a sense of a community of professional writers, which is not something I’ve had much of before: I like journals and blogs, but many of the concerns blog/journal writers have are not the same concerns of pro writers, and it’s nice to have people to bounce things off of. Also, of course, all these people were just plain fun people who I’m glad to have met and spent some time with. I don’t want to give the impression that all I did was sit there and talk about business — that would just make me an asshole when everyone else is at the bar to drink. Most of the time it was just nice to kick back with people who do the same thing I do.
Be that as it may, by Monday, I was ready to go, and it seemed most of the other people at Torcon felt the same way: The Convention Centre was sparsely filled and most of the panels I looked in were lightly attended if at all. I stuck around long enough for lunch with Nick and Clinnette, and then got in the car and drove on back. I had fun, but it’s nice to be home, too.
And now I have to get back to the actual business of writing: I have a novel due at the end of the month. So much for rest and relaxation. I have to earn my excuse to go to the NorEastCon next year.
(Note: Picture of me and Cory is taken from this lovely blog. Go! Go now!)