Friday, August 26, 2011

Fantasy Conventions and the Power of Community

I never knew that fantasy writing conventions existed until I landed a literary agent. We met in his office one crisp, fall day in New York City, and during a lovely lunch, he said, “you’ll have to go on the con circuit, of course.” The what? As an academic, my life had been shadowed by literature conferences that I barely, if ever, attended. I only remember that everyone wore black or some other dark clothing, and no one smiled. Don’t get me wrong, lovely, wonderful people attend academic conferences, but it wasn’t until I attended my first fantasy convention that I found my writing family. CONDFW was held in Dallas, which was less than two hours away and a super cheap plan ticket. I didn’t know what to wear or how to network. I only knew that I had cool, gothic-looking business cards made up especially for the occasion.

What I found was a thriving community of writers who supported and generally liked each other. I wasn’t on any panel or scheduled to do any reading—my novel, after all, was just going on submission. But whatever hierarchy I had experienced in the academic world was not to be found here, and people that I had known for less than thirty minutes took me around and introduced to me other writers and fantasy fans. I touch base with them whenever I can, either at a con or through Twitter or Facebook. It is an actively growing community that I am so proud to be a part of. But more than this, I found some of the shards of carnival still existed within these lovely conventions. For at night, fantastic creatures came alive and walked the hotel lobbies and ballrooms; aliens and humanoids graciously let me take their picture. I have rarely seen such Babsintricate costumes, and certainly not made with the love and care put into these extraordinary creations that turn people into dragons or bring Aslan back to life with most of his Narnia crew around him. It is a time of wonder and delight—a time of laughter that momentarily banishes all of my post-modern fears and stress. I wish the “outside” world knew more of the magic which lies in conventions like these. I wish the academic world would validate more of the writers who gather at these cons, some with as many as 20 novels to their name.

There is a joy at these conventions that I can’t place my finger on, a magic that is deep and beautiful and runs throughout the hotel for the duration of our stay. On my first night at a con in Austin (Armadillocon), I went up to the con suite, and there, sitting in a chair, was the most beautiful, uncanny creature I have ever seen. I immediately named her Babs, and asked whose she was, how did she get there? No one seemed to know, but there she stayed, in that chair, knitting with her strangely human hands and pointed gaze. She was endearing and creepy, and I could not stop touching her because she just seemed so real. And that is, perhaps, the magic that happens here—that the line between the real and unreal become blurred, that for a moment the fantastic leaps out from the book, and look, we are standing right beside it.